The problem with consumerism

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

consumerism1We do this not because it is the only way to meet our needs but because we live in an economy which requires us to consume more every year or it implodes and can't meet anyone's needs.

At the moment the entire global economy seems to be built on the model of digging things up from one hole in the ground on one side of the Earth, transporting them around the world, using them for a few days, and then sticking them into a hole in the ground on the other side of the world.

We have, by now, more or less, been programed to perform in exactly that model, and all so that the economy can keep growing without manufacturers having to come up with new products really. And that is aside from all of the, mostly unnecessary, packaging.

Consumerism has so much become part of the (new) capitalist model that it is destroying the Planet right before our eyes but we either, because of having been programed in that way already, are not prepared to go another way, cannot see another way, or, and that is more often than not the case, feel powerless to do anything about it.

It has been said that capitalism carries the seed of war in itself like clouds carry rain, but to that we should add that it also carries the seed of planetary destruction in itself in the same way.

So, what is the answer? Simply put it is that we need a new system. The capitalist economic model of perpetual growth via predestined and pre-programed obsolescence can no longer – in fact it never could – function on a finite Planet.

Is socialism the answer? Maybe, then maybe not, as it would very much depend on the model that is being applied. The socialism and communism that we have, mostly, seen in the past – with a few exceptions – have not been proper socialism or communism but state capitalism and whether it is private capitalism or state capitalism, it still is capitalism.

Though, having said that, due to lack of resources mostly, many of the socialist countries, such as the German Democratic Republic, however, produced consumer goods that were made to last, in the main, such as, per example, the RG28 kitchen machine, made in the GDR, that still, after 40 years, is doing its duty in many a kitchen. The reason? It is made well and repairable, even by a user with some tinkering ability.

It has to be said, also, that until about the 1980s most products, also in the West, were made more or less in a similar way in that they could be easily repaired and the repair economy also existed. Today, if repair is possible, it is made so expensive that the real option for most people is to toss the old and buy new. The system is designed in that way nowadays and that deliberately. It is called built-in obsolescence. In other words the system is designed in such a way – and the products – that after a given time they either break down and cannot be repaired, or repair being too expensive or, in the case of computers, are no longer hardware compatible with software, and thus have to be replaced. This is how the current economic model functions and that means that we, the consumer, have to buy the same product, with some modifications, over and over again.

In fact it is not a problem with consumerism that we have, although there is an element of that in it as well, but a problem with the economic system which is designed to grow through us, the consumer, having to, as said above, the same product, with some modifications, over and over again, because of (1) that the products are made to break down and (2) that they have also been designed not to be repairable or repair being too costly.

By means of this model the economy grows, but to the detriment of the Planet as well as our finances. And does the economy actually really grow when this is the case? While, on the outside, it may appear to do so in all honesty, as we have to buy the same thing over and over again, it does not really make for real and honest growth. Just for well massaged figures, so to speak.

Unfortunately, as long as the system is skewed like this we have very little choice, unless we can afford it, to buy in the way we are being forced to do. The alternative, though much more expensive, is to buy well-made, ideally made in our own respective countries, products. Products that are made to last and that can be repaired and hand-made goods. But who has that kind of money as that does not come cheap?

Well-made, and especially hand-made, is not cheap because a great deal of work time goes into making each and every product, and this even more so with hand-made than with just well-made. That is the difference between mass-produced goods produced outsources in countries such as China and others. Already mass-produced goods in our own countries are more expensive and that is due to labor costs, and years ago that would have also been due to quality, though that is no longer necessarily the case.

Most consumer goods, nowadays, are produced as consumables, to be used once or a couple of times and then discarded, because they are either outdated, worn out, broken and too expensive to repair, etc., and we have to buy new. That is, however, the way the system is skewed against, us, the consumer and the Planet. It is all about quick profit for the corporations at any and all expense in human and environmental costs. That is why the system needs replacing, not just changing or “repairing”. It can't be repaired because it is not broken; it was designed this way.

© 2018