Monday, June 09, 2008

The Gospel of Consumption

There is an excellent article in Orion magazine named "The Gospel of Consumption." Here are a few quotations:

"[By the end of the 1920s,] industrialists were worried. ... the industrial capacity for turning out goods seemed to be increasing at a pace greater than people’s sense that they needed them."

"In a 1927 interview with the magazine Nation’s Business, Secretary of Labor James J. Davis provided some numbers to illustrate a problem that the New York Times called 'need saturation.' Davis noted that 'the textile mills of this country can produce all the cloth needed in six months’ operation each year' and that 14 percent of the American shoe factories could produce a year’s supply of footwear."

"By the late 1920s, America’s business and political elite had found a way to defuse the dual threat of stagnating economic growth and a radicalized working class in what one industrial consultant called 'the gospel of consumption' - the notion that people could be convinced that however much they have, it isn’t enough. President Herbert Hoover’s 1929 Committee on Recent Economic Changes observed in glowing terms the results: 'By advertising and other promotional devices . . . a measurable pull on production has been created which releases capital otherwise tied up.' ... 'Economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied.'”

"Our modern predicament is a case in point. By 2005 per capita household spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) was twelve times what it had been in 1929 .... We are quite literally working ourselves into a frenzy just so we can consume all that our machines can produce. Yet we could work and spend a lot less and still live quite comfortably."

I recommend that you read the entire article, which is at


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