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The Rise of Materialism: A Relatively New Phenomenon

The Rise of Materialism: A Relatively New Phenomenon July 12, 2005

This past weekend, I contemplated my current economical standing and found it: impoverished. This was no surprise. It’s actually kind of fun being poor right now, because it makes for a forced ascetism punctuated by bursts of materialism (witness: Oakley sunglasses). I’ll blog on poverty later, but it struck me as I contemplated my poverty that I possess a number of very nice possessions considering my economic station. For example, I have the aforementioned ridiculously expensive sunglasses, a PalmPilot, a Bose cd player, and lots of Nike basketball shorts. These are high-end goods, and though I received many of them as gifts, they reflect the rather profitable version of poverty common to many Americans.

Such a situation–being poor with my own car and several nice goods–was unconceivable in much of historical America. Early adulthood in the times of the Revolutionary War afforded precious little to the average apprentice working the gallows for twelve hours a day. I would surmise our subject knew little in the way of disposable goods, or those possessions that one could survive without. Flash ahead to the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century. I’m guessing the string-cutter in the factory failed to possess a chalk-tablet, or whatever good would parallel my PalmPilot. Yet today, in a state of fairly comparable poverty, I have any number of disposable goods. The times change, particularly for those of us blessed enough to have families blessed enough to give generously. The diffusion of capitalistic activity in America has given rise to a much broader middle-class than ever before, and a “tricked-out” class of impoverished twentysomethings alien in any other era.


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