A while back, I wrote a couple of posts expressing a view that we might have passed Peak Consumerism. Buying stuff might have been losing its lustre, I suggested. As I noted in the second one, there was a fair bit of skepticism expressed.
We’ve now seen a belated dawning of awareness that – outside mining – the Australian economy is pretty stuffed. Or sluggish, if you prefer. But the commentariat have finally caught up with LP bloggers.
Anyway, it’s interesting to consider the significance of a blog in The Economist of all places floating the possibility that:
people may just be sick of buying new stuff. Or at least of buying the kinds of new stuff that the consumer economy of recent decades has been based on producing.
The post references an interesting piece in the New York Times, arguing that there may have been a structural shift in the US economy, driven by debt aversion. “The old consumer economy is gone, and it’s not coming back.”
The obvious counter argument to the proposition that there has been a secular shift in consumption habits is that, as the Economist blogger says, “more useful data would have to come from behavioural economists who work on consumer motivation”. Or sociologists!
Yet, if we think back to the generation that grew up during the Great Depression, it’s clear that shifts in behaviour and attitudes driven by economic adversity persist after that adversity passes.
There’s also a confluence with – at least among some parts of the populace – a return to ideas of making and repairing stuff, a resistance to the culture of planned obscelence, coming together with technological improvements in the quality of goods. Cultures of slower living, of household production: both are emerging.
David Leonhart in the NYT thinks this all implies the need for a different sort of economy, one where consumer spending isn’t the engine of growth. The issue I see with the sort of Schumpeterian predictions of new vistas for capitalism to conquer emerging out of economic crisis is that these vistas simply aren’t on the horizon. In a sense, both mass and niche production and financialised mayhem have been tried, and failed.
NB: Thanks to Mark for drawing the Economist link to my attention.