Overconsumption is ingrained into the fabric of modern capitalism (say, as practiced in the US). While generating more than enough material goods for everyone, it can’t stop there and must keep generating more and more. This is how it works and it relies on overconsumption. In order to efficiently produce, someone has to consume the goods or else the whole model falls apart.
While overproduction, another inherent characteristic of capitalism, is curable with occasional recessions and crises, overconsumption is not. At least not so far, and with no clear path to resolution. “The more the better” is still the driving force and slogan for many. Business interests are ahead of anything else. Whatever cannot be done with money, can be done with big money. Most don’t even question the absolute validity and often plain absurdity of this.
People eat bigger and bigger hamburgers, drink larger and larger cups (I’d rather all them buckets) of surgery drinks. They drive bigger and bigger cars, “commute trucks”, live in bigger and bigger houses for there’s no small ones available for those who can afford a good place, say with a good school.
Marketing machine comes to play, and all of the sudden, people desperately want something they lived perfectly fine without. Then, thanks to the same machine, they need more and more of that. Supply and demand principle, the basis of classical capitalism, fulfills the needs and quickly so. But let’s not forget – the demand often is CREATED by those who supply.
“Growth is good, isn’t it?” – will tell you any venture capitalist.
“Growth is all the is” – will echo the most successful ones.
“Where is the end?” – you may ask.
“There’s no such a thing. End is death” – you’ll hear in return.
As a result, the average person’s footprint on the environment and even on his own body is growing rapidly. The pace of this growth (the first derivative) is growing too. What happens to overconsuming people? They get fat, they get sick. “No problem!” – replies the Machine. Here’s the industrial solution: “We’ll treat you with more and more pills, more and more medical services. Keep on consuming. The more the better.” Nothing is free in this world. People would need to work more, to make just enough to keep on living. This is also supply and demand.
“Are we all doomed?”
“The end of capitalism, again? Really?”
“What’s the alternatives – socialism, communism?”
“Oh, another Marxist! Tried that. Didn’t work”
Truth to be told: I did study Scientific Communism in the university. Yes, there was such a discipline, required in each and every higher education school in the country I grew up. At the time, nobody particularly likes this discipline, but it essential to get your diploma. Oddly enough, the main subject of it was not communism for it did not exist. It wasn’t even socialism that existed but its socio-economic results were so poor it required the powerful propaganda Machine to convince people otherwise. “Power Fool” Machine, I’d wanted to add, not dissimilar to advertising engines of modern consumerism. By and large Scientific Communism was about capitalism, although very few would admit it publicly (and remain free after). One of the pillars of Scientific Communism was dialectics.
And in dialectics it was one said “quantity becomes quality”. Or at least, it can become under the right circumstances. Today’s overconsumption is largely quantitative. It’s just easier to imagine 2 bigger than 1, therefore easier to sell 2 for one-and-half the price of 1. What if the industry sells 2 for the price of one-and-half, but twice as good? The question would be “what’s good?”. Indeed, quality is very subjective unlike quantity – something kids learn in early childhood.
In other words, can quantitative overproduction be turned into qualitative? It does not contradict the supply and demand rules and even the infinite growth – both are being so important for modern capitalism – but it would be so much more compatible with the living being, and the environment they (us!) live in.
What if instead of cheap but large meal at the heart of capitalism – McDonalds – we’d have a $20 healthy breakfast with all-natural ingredients, served on environmentally-friendly (and culturally more appealing) ceramic plate with reusable silverware not made of plastic? What is the demand for such a breakfast goes up? Sure enough, Burger King will follow suit (or die) shortly after. What if the younger generation will no longer “choose” Pepsi and switch to water instead?
What if living in an environmentally-friendly house, not as big, or even apartment becomes trendy? What if choosing a car will be driven by “smart” vs. “large” or “fast”? Many may realize they don’t really need a car to begin with – bicycle or scooter is a good form of personal transportation in many situations, and the modern network of buses and railways is a good alternative for longer commute or travel?
What it Boeing would keep on building state-of-the-art aircraft with the focus on efficiency and environmental impact? Even military, as distant as it is from thinking of anything living – what if the military would be accountable based on ecological impact? Etc. etc.. I am not trying to list of of the “what-ifs” but assume you get the idea.
“Utopia! Won’t work!”
“What would motivate people?”
“In USSR (the second “S” is for socialist) they couldn’t produce their own jeans”
Oh, I am not talking about socialism at all. Not that socialism for sure. What’s in question is the same old capitalism with market forces, Adam Smith’s invisible hand, competition and all that jazz, but with a slightly different mindset targeting quality (of life) vs. quantity. That’s all! Look at Scandinavia, for instance. Living there may illustrate this idea of quality-driven capitalism (or whatever you want to call it) better than words.
Quantity has its limits – natural resources, planet ecosystem, biological capacity to consume, etc. while quality does not. The question is – can a society outgrow this Game of Quantity without losing capacity to produce enough of what’s needed for fulfilling happy life of its members? Or, the only alternative we have is to keep increasing the pace of our consumption, hoping for a miracle in the near future?