Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pyschology of Spending versus The Psychology of Cheapness

Like Shell, Weber examines the psychology behind consumption:

"The marketing analyst Victor Lebow summed up the official ethos of the era when he wrote, in 1955, "Our enormously productive economy...demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever-increasing rate." (p.177)

Although this was written about the 1950's, it also sounds like the early 21st century way of life. As I read Weber's book, I found myself wondering:
Is conspicuous consumption a fixed trait in the American national character?
  • Is it tied into being a nation of immigrants - people who have to prove that their lives are better than those they left behind?
  • Will the American economy always be consumption based?
At the same time, I do know Americans who are as cheap as Weber and her family. While they would not necessarily walk half an hour to save an ATM fee, they do cut back in ways that many Americans would find excessive. Yet this extreme thriftiness could be viewed as part of the American character:

"Americans [Ben Franklin] hoped, would forswear the types of luxuries imported from Europe, directing their savings instead toward investment at home. Those investments-in land, labor, and equipment-would increase the productive capacity of domestic farmers and craftsmen. Household, in his view, should make as much as their clothing, furniture, and food as possible, and what they couldn't produce at home, they should purchase from trained artisans who would themselves earn enough to employee apprentices and journeymen at good wages." (p. 35)

People would lead lives of creative, self-sufficient thrift in order that more of their country-men could have better-paying jobs.

  • Is thriftiness a way to get an equitable lifestyle for all?
  • Or is it dependent on cheap foreign labor?
  • Is it possible for something to be affordable but not exploitative of cheap labor?


Oscar W. said...

People practiced thrift before goods for the U.S. market were manufactured overseas. Early manufacturing techniques were intended to reduce production costs. Their products put labor-intensive craftspeople out of business. Manufacturing can be done cheaply in this country. Unfortunately, that involves reducing human labor to a minimum and relying on machines, computers and robots. If the work requires human labor, it is likely that it will have to be done outside of the U.S. now.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about normal times, but right now, we are experiencing the "Paradox of Thrift". We need people and companies to start spending, and banks to start lending to them. We have to kickstart a recovery somehow. Wanna sell any bonds to the Federal government?