Moralistic consumerism

Methodist minister Morgan Guyton has written a post entitled “Six Ways that Capitalism Fails the Church.”  His main point has to do not so much with free market economics as with the way the marketing and consumer mentality is distorting how churches operate.  I don’t agree with a great deal of what he says, but after the jump, I quote him on what he calls “moralistic consumerism.” [Read more...]

The Immodest Republic

My colleague Mark Mitchell has co-edited a new book entitled  The Culture of Immodesty in American Life and Politics: The Modest Republic.  It’s not just about women’s fashions.  From the description at Amazon:

The Culture of Immodesty in American Life and Politics is a collection of thirteen essays from a broad range of scholars and independent authors, evaluating the prevalence of immodesty in various aspects of American life and culture. Contributors diagnose immodesty through the lens of corporations that are ‘too big to fail,’ consumption inspired by excessive greed, art and fashion that lack beauty and taste, government budgets resulting in perennial deficits, and foreign policy that meddle in the affairs of other nations. Going beyond mere diagnosis of societal ills, The Culture of Immodesty in American Life and Politics provides a prescription for cultural impropriety: promoting a framework for the rejection of immodesty and greed in contemporary life.

[Read more...]

Income vs. consumption

More perspective on the economy from James Q. Wilson:

Poverty in America is certainly a serious problem, but the plight of the poor has been moderated by advances in the economy. Between 1970 and 2010, the net worth of American households more than doubled, as did the number of television sets and air-conditioning units per home. In his book “The Poverty of the Poverty Rate,” Nicholas Eberstadt shows that over the past 30 or so years, the percentage of low-income children in the United States who are underweight has gone down, the share of low-income households lacking complete plumbing facilities has declined, and the area of their homes adequately heated has gone up. The fraction of poor households with a telephone, a television set and a clothes dryer has risen sharply.

In other words, the country has become more prosperous, as measured not by income but by consumption: In constant dollars, consumption by people in the lowest quintile rose by more than 40 percent over the past four decades.

Income as measured by the federal government is not a reliable indicator of well-being, but consumption is. Though poverty is a problem, it has become less of one.

via Angry about inequality? Don’t blame the rich. – The Washington Post.

So how can consumption go up while income goes down?  One answer is debt, which is bad.  The other answer is that prices of what were once luxuries have gone down, putting them within the reach even of people with low incomes.

Religion blocks consumerism

In another odd experiment, it seems as if religious people are less susceptible to buying things according to their brand, which to secularists is often a means of enhancing status and self-worth:

Prof. Ron Shachar of Tel Aviv University’s Leon Recanati Graduate School of Business Administration says that a consumer’s religiosity has a large impact on his likelihood for choosing particular brands. Comsumers who are deeply religious are less likely to display an explicit preference for a particular brand, while more secular populations are more prone to define their self-worth through loyalty to corporate brands instead of religious denominations.

This research, in collaboration with Duke University and New York University scientists, recently appeared in the journal Marketing Science.

There is considerable statistical evidence that consumers buy particular brands to express who they are to the outside world, Prof. Shachar says. From clothing choices to cultural events, people communicate their personalities and values through their purchases.

Prof. Shachar and his fellow researchers decided to study the relationship between religiosity and brand reliance. . . .

Researchers discovered that those participants who wrote about their religion prior to the shopping experience were less likely to pick national brands when it came to products linked to appearance or self-expression — specifically, products which reflected status, such as fashion accessories and items of clothing. For people who weren’t deeply religious, corporate logos often took the place of religious symbols like a crucifix or Star of David, providing feelings of self-worth and well-being. According to Prof. Shachar, two additonal lab experiments done by this research team have demonstrated that like religiousity, consumers use brands to express their sense of self-worth.

via American Friends of Tel Aviv University: Shopping Religiously.

I suppose this simply proves that religious people are not as “worldly.”  It also suggests how pathetic it is to be “worldly,” having to turn to corporate logos as a substitute for religious symbols.

HT:  <a href=”http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/007649.html”>Future Pundit</a>

Consumers are acting too responsibly

Why is the economy faltering?  Robert Samuelson blames consumers, who are saving more and paying down their debt instead of spending:

“Consumers are deleveraging (reducing debt) . . . and rebuilding saving faster than expected,” writes economist Richard Berner of Morgan Stanley. In 2007, the personal savings rate (the share of after-tax income devoted to saving) was 2 percent. Now it’s about 6 percent. Temporarily, this hurts buying. Declines in consumer spending in 2008 and 2009 were the first back-to-back annual drops since the 1930s. Since World War II, annual consumption spending had fallen only twice (1974 and 1980). . . .

Household debt has already dropped $800 billion from its peak of $11.7 trillion, estimates economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics. The Federal Reserve reports that debt service — the share of income going to interest and principal payment — has decreased from almost 14 percent in early 2008 to about 12.5 percent, the lowest since 2000.

via Robert J. Samuelson – The saving mentality is hurting the economy’s recovery.

And what has economists in a panic is the prospect of people continuing these good habits!

Wanting it both ways

From Victor Davis Hanson:

We want all the dividends of industrial society, but an 18th century wilderness at the same time. . . .The redwood deck is beloved, not the falling coast redwood tree; kitchen granite counters are de rigueur, not the blasting at the top of the granite mountain; the Prius is a badge of honor, not the chemical plant that makes its batteries; we now like stainless steel frigs, but hate steel’s coke, and iron ore, and electricity lines; arugula is tasty, not the canal that brings water 400 miles to irrigate it; I support teacher unions and -studies courses in the public schools, but not with my Ivy-League bound children. . . .

The well-off like nice cars, tasteful homes, good food, and appropriate vacations — but not the oil, gas, coal, nuclear energy, transmission lines, timber, cement, farmland, water pumps, etc., that bring that to them.


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