Many of us are trapped in a “work-and-spend” cycle, where the desire for higher living standards can only be met by working harder.
There was something quite tragic about the Click Frenzy frenzy, wasn’t there? The same could be said about the Black Friday stampedes in the US, the likes of which are bound to be repeated here in Australia on Boxing Day. It’s tasteless consumerism to the max, turning ordinary people into ravenous and mindless shoppers, with flow-on effects in the workplace.
But first, let’s go back to 1929. In an article written for Nation’s Business magazine, Charles Kettering – a director of General Motors Research – opined on the need for companies to keep consumers dissatisfied. The moment people are happy with what they have, “almost immediately hard times would be upon us”, he wrote.
And so it is that marketers persevere with advertising to convince us we’re not sexy enough, popular enough, smart enough, or (whatever) enough, unless we purchase what they’re selling. Perhaps that’s why American comedian Bill Hicks referred to marketers and advertisers as “Satan’s spawn filling the world with bile and garbage”.
This is where work comes in. In order to fund the lifestyles to which we’ve become accustomed, we work. In many cases, we overwork. Then, as our credit card balances swell and our home loans balloon, we work even harder just to keep up. Where households could once get by with just one wage earner, today both parents have little choice but to be employed.
One analysis at the University of Melbourne sought to discover the reasons why people are increasingly compelled to work more than 50 hours a week. The researchers looked at a variety of possible explanations. Was it that people were motivated by the desire to be ‘ideal workers’? Was it a fear of losing their job? Or was it due to the collapse in union membership?
What came out in front was none of the above. The correct answer was consumerism. It was the “work-and-spend” trap, an endless cycle characterised by the desire for higher living standards, linked with greater levels of debt that can only be managed by working longer and harder.
In an article published in the Pacific Ecologist journal, Professor Sharon Beder from the University of Wollongong chronicled the history of consumerism’s impact on the workforce. It has made, she writes, workers “less likely to question the conditions of their work, the way it dominates their life, and the lack of power that they have as workers”.
That’s because consumerism grants people a taste of the good life – televisions, cars, electrical goods, houses, luxury items, holidays – and they want more of it. But that stuff can only be financed by working more … at any sacrifice.
Technology was supposed to make a positive difference. It was meant to remove the need to work so much, since machines were expected to take over. Instead, the opposite occurred, with technologies chaining many of us to our jobs beyond the standard working week in a drive towards ever-greater productivity.
So what would happen if we were all to collectively reduce our consumption? Undoubtedly, the economy would tank. Jobs would be lost. Politicians would be voted out of office. There’d be a recession; maybe even a depression. This all-consuming consumerism seems to be an inescapable part of life.
It doesn’t help that the success of our nation, and every nation these days, is determined by the strength of the economy – and a preoccupation with perpetual growth – a measure that can only be sustained by a relentless insatiability for products and services.
That’s why it was so refreshing to read what Gina Rinehart had to say yesterday. The world’s richest woman advised us all to live within our means and to be wary of too much debt. Can’t really argue with that.
What are your thoughts on consumerism? Leave a comment.
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