project WORLDVIEW  choice info         copyright 2022               Home         

Related Words, Beliefs, Background for Choice #46

Worldview Theme #26A: The Consumerist                                 Worldview Theme #27: The Small Producer

for a summary read these 5 entries in order: consumerism, consumerists, salesmanship /  marketing, advertising, needs vs. wants

for a summary read these 5 entries in order: food from plants--the basics, organic gardening / farming / permaculture, do it yourself,  barter economy,  laborers vs. craftsmen vs. artists

advertisinginvolves those (individuals, corporations, etc) seeking buyers / users for their products / services communicating with potential consumers with marketing messages directed at them.  Those is a colossal big business! In 2020 USA media advertising expenditures were estimated to total $ 263 billion  -- roughly 35% of all advertising dollars spent worldwide. See also pusher.

affluenza—a derogatory term most frequently employed by critics of consumerism.  The word was the title of a 1997 PBS film, and subsequent related book, which defined it as, “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” To this I’d add, “those afflicted often fail to pay proper attention to what should be fundamentally important to them: their health.”

agribusiness vs. family farming—the former is a term coined in 1957, this includes, according to Wikipedia, “agrichemicals, breeding, crop production (farming or contract farming), distribution, farm machinery, processing and seed supply as well as marketing and retail sales.”  Commonly agribusiness is associated with corporate farming—which many see as the opposite of family farming. This is a misconception in that roughly 90 % of the world’s nearly 600 million farms are owned by families (many of which admittedly have set up their family businesses as corporations.)  What is true is that the size of the average farm in the USA is steadily increasing: from 1880 when it was around 135 acres, to 2011 when it had reached 429 acres, to a 2020 size of 443 acres (USDA figures). To underscore the dramatic need for both machinery and labor on farms of such sizes, a mere ¼ acre was once commonly cited as the largest piece of land that a single person could work by oneself. 

agriculture--the technology and practice of farming--preparing the soil, planting, nourishing, cultivating, and raising crops for food or fiber--or raising livestock, fish, etc. for human consumption.  Its earliest beginnings, nearly 10,000 years ago, allowed humans to start trading hunter-gatherer lifestyles for more settled existences.  In the last century, the development of manmade fertilizers, pesticides, mechanized farm equipment--and more recently new varieties of grains--has greatly increased agricultural productivity.  While globally agriculture still employs 35 % of the world's workers,  in affluent countries the corresponding figure is much less (in places dropping below 1%).

agriculture, community supported–a community supports a local farm to the benefit of both.  Ideally, consumers get affordable, locally grown, fresh, high quality and ecologically acceptable food, whereas farmers use this strong producer–consumer relationship to minimize their financial risk and the amount of food they produce that is wasted.  Farmers especially benefit in this latter regard when the consumer group funds a whole year's farming budget.  In doing this, the group assumes much of the risk but also increases its stakeholder role–giving it greater input into farming and distribution practices.       

appropriate (or soft) technology–technology selected, designed and implemented with the special environmental, cultural, social and economic aspects of the community it is intended for in mind.  It typically has little or no significant environmental impact and is well suited to an area since it makes use of what is relatively abundant–for example, labor in places where people need jobs.     Typically it involves devices that are small, relatively simple, inexpensive, decentralized, and that can preserve meaningful experiences or work for people. In contrast high or hard technology typically has much greater environmental impact, tends to replace people with machines, and can involve more technological complexity, equipment capital outlay, etc. Example: using lots of workers with hand tools to control unwanted brush in a forest–so that young trees can get more sun for growth–would be an appropriate technology solution.  Using one person flying over a forest in a helicopter spraying a chemical herbicide to kill such growth would be a hard technology way of accomplishing the same thing. 

barter economythis is based on people simply trading goods and services without the added complication of money. Since no money is involved government levied taxes are avoided.

competition vs. cooperation–the former involves two or more rivals in a contest where typically only one wins, profits or comes out ahead, the latter involves a mutually beneficial association where people help each other.  

conspicuous consumption -- consumption designed to show off one's social status and promote an image of having wealth and power, The term was coined by Veblen in the early part of the 20th century. It also involves  people buying expensive things just to show that they can afford them -- a snob effect that flies in the face of a thrifty / frugal / "less is more" orientation. Its pursuit can override practical utility considerations.  

consumerism--associated with those who purchase goods and services in the free market economy. The term is understood differently depending upon whether it is considered at the individual or national economic level.  Critics associate rampant consumerism with a disease: affluenza  (see affluenza) and childish need for instant gratification (see that entry.)

consumerists--those who believe in the fundamental importance of the role that consumerism plays in either their own individual lives, national economies (see consumer spending), or both. See also shopping as a religion.

consumer protection—government regulation which protects consumers both from health and safety dangers that products or services might pose and from unfair business practices such as fraud, misrepresentation and collusion

consumer protection movement–involves consumers demanding certain rights and legal protection as they consume goods and services.  Beginning in the mid-1950s in the United States, by 1962 President Kennedy identified certain rights (such as the rights to safe products, and to file complaints, etc) that latter, when expanded, came to be known as The Consumer Bill of Rights.  Parts of it have since become law.  By 1985 the United Nations embraced consumer rights and identified eight basic rights.  A USA government milestone came in 2011 with the establishment of The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.                       

consumer rights– the following are fundamental rights of consumers as internationally accepted and recognized by the  European Union in the first decade of the 21st century as constituting objectives of its consumer policy: the right to the protection of health and safety; the right to the protection of financial interests; the right to the protection of legal interests; the right to representation  and participation; the right to information and instruction

consumer spending, American–in 2019 it totaled roughly $15 trillion accounting for  70% of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and 20% of world GDP. Based on US Census Bureau data, median USA family consumer spending for the year was $63,400—with 31% spent on housing, 26% on taxes, 15% on transportation,  12% on food, 8.5% on healthcare, 5% on entertainment, and 3% on apparel.

consumption function--the relationship between personal consumption expenditures (plotted vertically) and disposable (that is, after taxes) income (plotted horizontally).  It is useful in making predictions based on economic models.   

corporation–created to conduct business as a single legal entity, with rights and duties.  For the self employed, incorporating has advantages–notably owners are generally not personally liable for corporate debts or activities.  Corporations,  upon issuing shares of stock, are owned by shareholders–ranging in number from a handful (for closely held ventures) to thousands (for publicly held ones). The corporation is the key organization unit of modern capitalist economies.  Many argue that because corporations are not persons (with moral responsibilities) they cannot be criticized in moral terms.      

discounting the future -- doing or having (consuming) something now, rather than waiting , or rather than investing the money you would have spent and getting a high return on the investment

dissipation--wasteful squandering of money, resources, or energy in excessive pursuit of pleasure

do it yourself approach--rather than pay certain professionals (carpenters, plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, tax preparers, lawyers, etc.) self reliant people (see self reliance; see Protestant Work Ethic) who wish to save money will do the work themselves.  Typically they begin by educating themselves as to the professional details of the task they face.  See also repair clinic / “fix it” / troubleshooting  clinics.   

economics, behavioral–challenges neoclassical economics based on appreciation of human nature and research involving "how actual people make financial decisions" as Barack Obama put it in 2009.  With economic crisis casting doubt on "markets know best," governments may increasingly turn to behavioral economists' ideas to restore prosperity.

economy of scale—a cost advantage achieved by producing more, typically due to decreased cost per unit  with increasing output

egocentric -- the selfish, self-centered viewpoint that narrowly limits a person’s outlook to focus on his or her own feelings, needs, concerns, problems and activities 

envy -- painful or resentful awareness of someone who is more fortunate or enjoys some advantage

family life-- promotingTwo ways to do this: 1) "find ways to bring mothers, fathers, and children back home" (not divide parents,  children) by seeking to "end all discrimination against stay-at-home parents"; promote home-based employment; promote policies favoring family businesses and farms, end those favoring large business,” and 2) working to "create true home economies" (lessen big government,  corporate control of families)  by working to "encourage employers to pay a family wage to heads-of-households"; protect home schools; "encourage self-sufficiency"; and  "end the culture of dependency found in the welfare state." (the above has been excerpted from The Natural Family, by A. Carlson & P. Mero)

food from plants, the basics: plants need sun, nutrients from soil, rain and carbon dioxide from the air; they give off oxygen.  The process is called photosynthesis: solar energy, water, and carbon dioxide are absorbed by plants and transformed into carbohydrates (sugar, starch).  This serves as a direct source of food for people—or indirectly when they eat animals, who fed on plants.  Plants grow best in soils rich in organic matter, moisture, and minerals—especially those containing nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Microorganisms in soil fix nitrogen from the air and make it available to plants. They also decompose organic matter, minerals and release nutrients.  Ideally when plants die, their remains return to the soil and enrich it. Human management of all of this (agriculture)-- if not done properly-- can lead to soil erosion / degradation. In the most severe cases several feet thick rich fertile soil built up naturally over thousands of years in places like the USA’s Midwest can be destroyed in decades.

food preparation and processing–steps that are taken before a potential natural food source is actually consumed as food by human beings.  This can involve removing fibrous plant material or animal skin coverings / innards, washing, chopping, grinding, storing, cooking, and additional processing that can include chemical treatment or preserving.  Some health experts urge people to consume most of their food in as natural a state, with as little processing, as possible

hunter-gatherer society–one in which people derive their sustenance from wild plants and animals, and often (seasonally or otherwise) move if necessary.  Before the domestication of these resources, beginning over 10,000 years ago, all humans lived in such societies

husbandry--the production of edible crops or meat / other animal products for food 

incentive--something that motivates, simulates, inspires, or encourages someone to do something

individualism -- a social philosophy and belief system that places individual interests and rights above those of society , and individual freedom and independence above any social contract obligations

information--blurred lines separating consumers & producersthis refers to the fact that while once there were clear lines separating producers of news, entertainment, and other forms of information transfer from its audience of consumers, with the development of the internet / world wide web beginning in the early 1990s the lines began to blur. Once passive “consumers” now routinely interact via Facetime, Skype, Zoom, etc, post pictures and information on social media and via email, regularly publish books, blogs, etc,  contribute to things like the online encyclopedia known as Wikipedia,  feed reviews to producers of products and services, etc


instant gratification -- the thrill that comes when you immediately get a desired something. Driving this is a childish “I want that now!” force. For some, this force is powerful enough to overcome the opposing force: a rational, restraining adult attitude that questions whether the desired something is really needed and whether there is money to pay for it.

intellectual property & cultural rights–refer to an individual claiming ownership and associated exclusive benefits for works / products he or she has created or a whole culture making similar claims when outsiders seek to benefit from their cultural heritage

laborers vs. craftsmen vs. artists distinction--in this regard St. Francis of Assisi offered the following: "He who works with his hands is a laborer; He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman; He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist" Here the term artist can include  creative writers and those who make a living from their writing. See also  information--blurred lines separating consumers & producers. 

making do–instead of giving in to forces urging one to "get what you want now!" and incurring debt to do so, one can instead make do with what one has or one’s current situation.  The ability to "make do" depends on several factors, including one’s self restraint, patience, ability to live within a budget, ability to find pleasure in lower cost (i.e. affordable) activities, and do it yourself skills.  The latter can be especially valuable in keeping older vehicles, appliances or whatever functioning.  With respect to housing costs, some "do it yourselfers" who frugally save their money while renting are eventually able to avoid being tied to a home mortgage by refurbishing a lower cost "fixer upper" house–or even building from the ground up

market economy -- a private, free-enterprise system based on independent consumer agents, a price system, and economic forces of supply and demand

marginal propensity to consume -- in the economic theory behind consumer spending and disposable income, this term is defined as the fraction of an extra dollar of income that goes to purchase consumer goods. Technically, it represents the slope of the consumption function.  

narcissism -- an exaggerated sense of self love or heightened emotional investment in one’s self , detracting from one’s appreciation of or emotional investment in others . It has been suggested that this masks deep feelings of unworthiness and emptiness -- unacknowledged, but unconsciously lurking. Critics of  individual excess in the consumer culture have linked the psychology behind it to narcissism. 

need for power--a human psychological need with individual personal and bigger social aspects. In a 1961 book psychologist David McClelland defined this as a desire for "power either to control other people or to achieve higher goals." Of course from a control / fitting into one's personal circumstances and environment point of view, no one wants to feel powerless. Pursuing money, friendships with powerful people, big houses, big cars, etc. are part of feeling  powerful and meeting this need.  (See also powerlessness, feeling of)

needs vs. wants–the former are something that you have to have, the latter are something you would like to have.  If you haven't guessed, needs are more basic, things like air to breathe, food to eat, water to drink, shelter, and other things– including other people and non-material things they can provide, and other intangibles.  As an example of what might be in this last category are needs that involve feelings such as  "the need to feel valued."  How do you decide if something is really a need or merely a want?  One way is to ask yourself the question, "Can I survive without this?"    

obsession -- an idea, feeling or emotion that persistently haunts or disturbs one’s consciousness and leads to what becomes, either through its repetition or otherwise, inappropriate, unreasonable behavior. Many obsessions are beyond willful control, even with the recognition of their inappropriateness.

organic gardening / farming / permaculturegrowing vegetables, fruit, flowers organically means  without the use of synthetic (non-natural, industry produced) chemicals to kill pests (including weeds) or synthetic chemical fertilizers to improve the soil. The last of these terms is associated with land management based on an area's thriving natural ecosystems. 

pesticides–substances used to kill or control pests: organisms which interfere with human well being or activities (agricultural, in particular). They are classified according to the type of pest they are used on (e.g. insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc).  While such use of naturally occurring substances goes back thousands of years, the first manmade pesticide to be widely used was the insecticide DDT, developed in 1939.  Like DDT, many pesticides can poison humans and damage the environment.  By the 1960s, with the publication of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, it was recognized that DDT interferes with bird reproduction.  It is now banned in many countries.  A new generation of pesticides–some of which are biological agents, instead of manmade chemicals– promise less environmental impact.   

powerlessness, feeling of --   a combination of various feelings including  feeling:  small and unable to exert any social influence; being swept up in a tide of powerful events; inability to do anything other than conform or obey a distasteful command;  lacking in having any personal control over the world; for parents  inability to protect / nurture their children, etc.     

prisoners of consumerism-- a derogatory term referring to those who have unthinkingly succumbed to the all pervasive advertising messages of multinational corporations and adopted a consumerist lifestyle based on wanting, valuing, and continually spending money on things that they don’t really need.

production, factors of–in both classical and neoclassical economics these are considered to be labor, land (including natural resources), and capital.  These can be hired (labor for wages, land for rent, capital loaned at some interest rate, etc.) or fired in a market economy.     

propaganda -- broadly speaking, information that is designed and disseminated as part of a concerted effort to influence what individuals believe or want, and manipulate public opinion and desires.

Protestant work ethic -- an ethic based on self reliance, hard work and frugality being the path to salvation that has been important in shaping post Reformation western (especially American) society of the last five hundred years. Thus, ingrained in my people’s heads, since their earliest childhood, were sayings like “God helps those who help themselves”, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”, “A penny saved is a penny earned”, etc. Only recently has a consumption ethic begun to seriously compete with, some would say replace, this work ethic.

purchasing power parity -- a scheme by what a nation’s currency is adjusted so that, in comparing it to another currency, they will purchase the same amount of goods and services.

pusher -- a derogatory term referring to someone who consciously makes an effort to hook someone on an addictive product or behavior -- including a consumerist lifestyle. With respect to this latter possibility, one can argue that the most massive pusher effort in history involves the nearly impossible to escape advertising messages of multinational corporations trying to hook individuals on wanting and continually spending money on things that they don’t really need.

refurbish--to make clean or restore

repair clinic / “fix it” / troubleshooting  clinics—some communities offer free weekend clinics in which local repair experts / do-it-yourselfers volunteer to help people fix items they bring by that need repair. Some libraries offer a similar service for troubleshooting computer problems; some universities offer free bicycle repair services as part of an on campus bike repair clinic. All of this challenges a “throw away” mentality that drives the need for more mining / resource extraction. Critics point out that consumer spending is the lifeblood of the economy and that jobs will dry up if people fix things instead of buying new ones.

residue--what's left or what remains after everything else--including some more useful or desired part--has been consumed or removed  

reverse engineering–starting with a finished product, to work backwards–disassembling and analyzing it–in an effort to under-stand how the product works so as to be able to make it from scratch–perhaps even improve on it

salesmanship /  marketingthe practice of selling / marketing a product or service that either one typically produces or offers, or more commonly, on behalf of the owner or provider. Words of Wisdom from Marketing's Great Success Stories include: 1) from Marshall Field: "The customer is always right!" (Field (1834-1906) or employee Harry Selfridge is usually credited with this.); 2) Sam Walton: "Exceed your customers expectations...Give them what they want—and a little more.  Let them know you appreciate them...Stand behind everything you do.  The two most important words I ever wrote were on that first Walmart sign: 'Satisfaction Guaranteed.'" (from Sam Walton —Made in America, by Sam Walton (1918-1992) with John Huey); 3)  Jeff Bezos: "Try to give your customers the biggest selection at the best prices, delivered cheaply and easily." (the mantra of Amazon's chief as paraphrased in Time May 12, 2008)

self reliance– relying on yourself, your own wisdom and effortnot on the authority of others, their help, or government help

shopping as a religion--various books, including Coming of Age in the Global Village and The Sacred Santa: Religious Dimensions of Consumer Culture by Dell deChant, have argued that consumerism is a culture which increasingly meets or replaces religious needs of affluent Western shoppers.  The Christmas holiday season--and the parallels between religious and consumerist aspects--is typically a key part of such arguments.

social influence—is related to the ways individuals change their behavior to better fit into their social environment and its demands

social justice—refers to 1) a relationship between individuals and society in which people have what is just, defined in various ways as being reasonable, proper, lawful, right, fair, deserved, merited, etc; 2) if the condition described above does not exist, then taking steps to make it so. In practice, in affluent Western societies, seeking social justice is concerned with seeking a fairer distribution of wealth and privilege, equal opportunity for all, ending unfair discrimination or exclusion, and providing a safety net for the especially vulnerable. It can also involve recognizing / rewarding those who contribute to the common good more than those who behave in more self-serving fashion.

social status—related to social class, it is a relative measure of social value—based on somewhat subjective things like respect accorded, love felt for, personality traits, interpersonal skills, value of work done, perceived competence, lifestyle choices, etc. and more concrete objective  things like physical size, appearance, health, family, friends, education, honors bestowed on,  income, possessions, human associates, etc. Anthropologists tell us all societies have status hierarchies.  Long ago—and even perhaps today in some very primitive patriarchal societies--such status was rather simply a matter of size/strength/ combat used to determine the “alpha male.”  Today, beyond social class factors,  beliefs and values are typically the determining factors even to the extent that some value money, possessions, education, family, health,  work in certain professions, etc.  more than others.  Psychological factors—critical in self-esteem—are also important, especially when a person’s possible insecurity / anxiety over rankings others assign is involved.  This is undoubtedly a factor in people needing to surround themselves with symbols,—of success, power, wealth, etc.—engaging in conspicuous consumption, being overly concerned with images associated with them in others’ eyes, etc. 

tool–a handheld device or simple machine that allows the user to better perform some physical task.  Once thought to be the only tool-using species, humans are now seen to be the only species that uses tools to make other tools.

utility -- in economic theory, this refers to the amount of use and satisfaction that a consumer gets from a particular purchase



Back to Choice #46