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Consumption Is Too Important to Be Left to Consumers

posted by Mechele Dickerson

Professor George Ritzer, another sociologist (University of Maryland), presented a hyper paper ("Hyperconsumption" and "Hyperdebt": A "Hypercritical" Analysis). He argues that it has now become part of our public duty to consume. We were asked to consume after 9-11. We have been encouraged (really, really, encouraged – just ask WalMart) to spend the stimulus tax checks some of us might be receiving over the next few weeks. While consumers aren’t dupes, he stressed, we are being encouraged to do what producers want us to do.

Much of Prof. Ritzer’s talk described what he calls the "Cathedrals of Consumption."  These Cathedrals include:  Disneyland and other theme parks (which are visited more often than the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canyon and most other natural or historical attractions); McDonald’s; fully-enclosed shopping malls (and later mega-malls); Toys R Us (and other super stores); Amazon.com and other aspects of the information highway (online gambling, porn). The Cathedrals make it much easier to consume, but, of course, the only way to pay for many of these things is by credit (specifically, using a credit card). These Cathedrals have caused us to live in an era of hyperconsumption.

Because we have a duty to consume, it is no longer good enough just to spend all we earn or all we have saved. Instead, we’re encouraged to go even deeper into debt in order to spend even more. Prof. Ritzer noted the shift in our economy from a producer to a service economy and stressed that the service economy depends on hyperconsumption.  He showed the things (and, there are lots of them) that make hyperconsumtion possible: proliferation and dependence on ATMs; transportation delivery speed (how quickly you can get the book you ordered from Amazon.com); the (until recently) ease of getting home mortgages and credit card.

Prof. Ritzer then explained his views of hyperdebt, i.e., more debt that one "needs." Consumers increasingly go deeper in debt than they either intend (for example, people don’t always understand the ramifications of ARMs or payday loans or paying only the minimum credit card balance) or can afford (for example, subprime loans help people get homes they couldn’t afford). Prof. Ritzer concluded by discussing some good news, and then the bad news. Increasingly, there’s an equal distribution of wealth globally. That’s the good news (except for some folks in the US). Prof. Ritzer fears, however, that we are facing a decline in the US standard of living since it’s just impossible for us to consume (or borrow) our way out of our debt problems.

The final sociologist for the morning, Professor Robert Antonio (University of Kansas), responded to Prof. Ritzer’s paper and stressed that people often discover things in the Cathedrals of Consumption that they didn’t know they needed.  He questions whether our capacity to consume is infinite, and whether we may be nearing the end in the growth in consumption/accumulation.  He then linked environmental concerns and other ecological crises, to global consumption.

Comments

Mechele,

Thank you so much for all of the updates. It’s good to know what is going on with the "movers and shakers" present at that conference. I have so many questions and comments. I am just so darn busy and I am stuck in this office! We have had a significant spike in activity as of late. Twice today I have had to deal with what I hate most, telling someone that they are too far gone for us to save their home in Bankruptcy. TGIF! for sure!

It’s not just me! Sometimes I feel that what I say here on this blog is sometimes a bit radical or may not make much sense but I am learning more and more that what I am seeing and thinking others are also seeing and thinking as well. And it’s coming from people with substantially more education and expertise than I for that matter. I don’t feel so alone.

I have always thought and said that people need to be educated in the world of credit. I feel it needs to come as early as High School. As we know college students are bombarded with offers of credit even without a job. The “industry” may want them to “learn it the hard way” but debtors, I mean consumers, need that education beforehand. Not everyone can afford to learn it the hard way. Not everyone who obtains a credit card or a mortgage has a college degree and even if they did, may not know everything they should. I can’t accept “they signed on the bottom line”, “they should not have signed if they didn’t understand the terms”. It has to start early! It's go to be done right.

I’m outies! Going to surf off all of this "work" frustration!

Lates!

This sounds very spot-on with my observations. We're a consumer society - not a producer society, our society oriented about consuming a result - not producing it. The end result is that it glorifies the intake, not the production - and abstracts people from the issues of production.

The end result of course is people consume without an understanding of the repercussions. We're definitely seeing that now.

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