The textbook definition of consumerism is the practice of purchasing goods that are classified as being beyond the basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter. Today, these basic necessities have expanded to a certain extent; a private vehicle is eminently useful, as is a cell phone and to a certain extent, a computer. Apart from this, everything is classified as consumer goods. A luxury clothing brand and an entertainment system fall under this category, as do toys, film and video game merchandise, and designer furniture and jewelry. This is a far from comprehensive list, and barely touches the tip of the iceberg; currently, a huge portion of the world spends more on consumer items than they do on savings and stocks.
The developed and developing world has, to a large extent, become embroiled in this extremely consumerist culture. Since it does not seem possible to extricate ourselves out of it, let us see what the possible benefits and drawbacks of consumerism are.
Positive effects of consumerism:
Let us begin with the benefits.
The most obvious benefit is of course economic growth. This happens as a series of events. When a great many people buy goods and services, gross expenditure on these products increase, and that leads to greater turnover. Retailers and manufacturers earn more, and people are motivated to earn more so that they can afford these consumer products. Manufacture of these goods increases manifold, leading to more units and employment for a lot more people.
Consumerism increases the movement in the demand and supply chain. The more people buy, the more demand is created for a product, which leads to increased production. Again, the increase in production leads to increased purchase. This, in turn, leads to increased employment as more people are employed in factories that make these goods. As retailers and manufacturing companies get bigger, they also employ a lot more people.
Creativity and market innovation takes the front seat in consumer culture as the customer takes the wheel. People look for better alternatives all the time, and competition among companies grow as more companies are formed to meet the customer demand. In such a situation, it becomes imperative for the manufacturers to sell superior products at competitive prices. Lower quality products receive flak from the consumers, and companies that sell them face the risk of being edged out of the market.
Better living standards
Yet another very obvious effect of a consumer oriented market is the possibility of better living standards. With the availability of a number of goods in the market, the average person can pick and choose among the products offered without having to settle for a single variation. Lifestyles improve as people can get their hands on better homes, better furniture, better vehicles, and better clothing. Pocket pinch is also considerably lower as companies strive to get their customers’ attention via competitive pricing and regular discounts.
Negative effects of consumerism:
However, consumerism has its downsides as well, as can be seen from the current global climate.
Bad for small industries
Local industries run the risk of being negatively affected by the rise of consumerism. Since consumerist countries usually have a higher purchase power, high quality goods that are not available indigenously are imported from elsewhere. In a consumerist economy, people are willing to pay a higher price for an established brand in hopes of getting an authentic or higher quality product even though local brads would probably make the same thing at a lower price. In such cases, the local industry might get edged out of the market owing to lack of customers; if they do remain in business, they are forced to manufacture cheaper goods at a low quality because of the lack of revenue.
Consumerism translates to the building more factories and wide scale urbanization. This leads to a serious depletion of natural resources; forests are cut down and water bodies closed up in order to make room for urban or commercial development. This leads to damages on a far greater scale with considerable impact on ecology. The environment is also affected due to the increased levels of pollution from these factories and settlements, and also directly from the products are being sold and purchased.
The consumerist culture is not something we can do without. It has become more or less part and parcel of our lives, and in some ways, it is proof of a country’s economic prosperity. USA leads the world in a consumer-driven economy, but developing countries such as India and China are jumping on the bandwagon as well. If the current trade continues, most nations will join in the party.