Monday, April 16, 2007

Consumerism or Socialism?

From the SPGB blog, Socialism Or Your Money Back:

According to Channel Five TV, consumerism is one of the Big Ideas that Changed the World. Jonathan Porritt, hobnobber with royalty, supporter of reformed capitalism, and pale green activist, was presenter of the programme on consumerism of 10 April. He made some good critical points about the threat to sustainability of growing world consumerism, but concluded by advocating reforming it rather than getting rid of it.

It is fast becoming clear that the growing capitalist world market will not be able to raise the material standard of everyone living on the planet to that enjoyed at present by people living in the "prosperous" west. The present world population is around 6.5 billion and is expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050. The population of the "developed" world is expected to stabilise at around 1.2 billion. All of the extra 2.5 people expected to be living in 2050 will be in the current "developing" world.

There has been speculation about where the resources needed to sustain a larger world population at a good standard of living will come from. Optimists writing in 1995 thought it would take three additional planets to support the whole world's increased population at the standards of the industrialised world. In 2005 a more pessimistic estimate was that "we would have to discover four Earth-like planets to accommodate them all."

A big part of the problem is that capitalism isn't really geared to meeting human needs; it likes to create, and then satisfy human wants. The top end of the market lavishly caters for the wants of people with plenty of money to spend. The bottom end of the market sells cheap (and often shoddy or unhealthy) goods and services to people with little money but who need them. The market doesn't cater at all for people with no money - they have to rely on stealing, charity or handouts.

When William Morris was writing about socialism at the end of the 19th century the term "consumerism" hadn't been invented. Imagine if he were writing about the situation today (with apologies to Fiona MacCarthy, arguably the best of Morris's biographers):
A-z-list celebrities? Bargain breaks? Bottom-line accounting? Business parks ? Buy to let? Chat shows? Corporate sponsorship? Craft fayres? Customer loyalty? Debt counselling? Designer clothes? Drug culture? Enterprise environment? Fast food? Freebie magazines? Gurus? Health farms? Junk bonds/food/mail? Leisure centres? Life-style coaching? Money laundering? Niche marketing? Paparazzi? Pet boutiques? Political correctness? Pulp fiction? Reality shows? Retail therapy? Sell your story? Shopping malls? Soap operas? Sound bites? Spaghetti junctions? Surveillance cameras? Theme parks and pubs? Trophy wives? Two for the price of one? Video porn? Vip lounges? War memorabilia?

"Damned pigs! Damned fools!"
You can hear Morris expostulate, robust, fidgety, tremendous, pulling out the hairs (singly) from his great prophetic beard.
Stan Parker