This week’s post-Black-Friday-and-post-Cyber-Monday news is: Consumer confidence is up in America.
That’s good news for an economy that needs consumers to keep on buying. Buying shiny objects makes the economy grow. “Shiny objects” is a phrase James Roberts uses to describe the things we want but don’t need, that many people covet for status and social power, and that many people overspend to acquire. We’ve relied on his excellent book by the same title all week to understand the nature, causes, and consequences of consumer behavior.
When people buy for status, the bar always rises. A status-driven consumer can never have enough, even though—and the research shows this—buying more doesn’t raise happiness. This is called the “treadmill of consumption.” This treadmill, as Roberts puts it, is the “process of moving ahead materially without any real gain in satisfaction.” Like a drug addict, he says, more and more “doses” of shiny objects are needed to get the same “high.” But “acquiring more possessions doesn’t take us any closer to happiness; it just speeds up the treadmill.”
The irony, of course, is that our economy is built on the treadmill of consumption. It depends on it. Without the treadmill of consumption, the economy would collapse. A society without the treadmill of consumption would be a very different one from the one we have now.
Do you agree with the treadmill analysis?
Can we get off the treadmill?
What would our society look like?
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Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.