Less Stuff, More Meaning

Continuing in the same vein as our previous post, a nice essay on the relationship between production and consumption, by editor Don Fitz, came through Znet this week. In the essay, Fitz lays out a counteroffer to the common cry for "Consume Less!" -- instead of consuming less, Fitz argues that the U.S. should think about producing less. In this way, he attempts to solve the ideological divide between environmentalists and social justice activists:
These conceptual problems stem from progressives using corporate economic frameworks. The error is believing that there is a connection between the amount of production and the amount of consumption. The common misperception is that an increase in consumption requires increased production, and, conversely, a fall in production means there will be less available to consume.
Accepting corporate economics, environmentalists make the false conclusion that if CO2 levels are to drop, then people must consume less. Social justice activists mistakenly believe that putting people back to work and providing basic necessities for all requires an increase in production. Neither of these are true. The greatest decrease in CO2 levels would come with a change in production and requires no personal sacrifice. Increasing production would not guarantee enough jobs; but, changing production could.
How so? For goods, it all has to do with eliminating planned obsolescence. In the interwar years, producers realized that, for the first time ever, there were enough goods for everyone -- a kink in the system that they hadn't foreseen. To solve the issue, goods became less and less durable. (On a related note, one statistic I recently read stated that we would need 1.3 planet Earths to sustainably meet the needs of our current rate of consumption.) By reducing production and increasing quality, Fitz argues, people would be consuming more meaningfully.

Fitz goes on to detail how the model of reducing production would work in terms of militarism and the consumption of security, food, shelter, health care and transportation. By reducing corporate food production, for instance, there would be more food to consume. (This argument borrows from the local food movement.)

The argument and the numbers make sense on paper. Perhaps what still needs to be discussed is the social aspect of consumerism and how identities are forged through consumption (whether this be of goods or of concepts). Perhaps simply changing or modifying the structures wouldn't entirely fix the problems.

Click here to read Fitz's article, "We Can Produce Less and Consume More."
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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:25 PM

    These are great ideas, but the challenge is in the implementation. Useful would be test areas or select regions and industries that can attempt some of these types of reforms. Both producers and consumers need to be convinced of the efficacy of such ideas with real-world examples.


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