"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?
"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?