Posts tagged with: consumerism

retired-workAs Christians in the modern economy, we face a constant temptation to limit our work and stewardship to the temporal and the material, focusing only on “putting in our 40,” working for the next paycheck, and tucking away enough cash for a cozy retirement.

Such priorities have led many to absorb the most consumeristic features of the so-called “American Dream,” approaching work only as a means for retirement, and retirement only as a “dead space” for recreation and leisure.

Yet as retiree Glynn Young reminds us, God never intended for our work and stewardship to end or sunset as we get older. Though our “day jobs” and economic activities may conclude, there is always plenty of work to be done:

As the time approached for me to seriously considering retiring, I discovered something: retirement is not a biblical concept.

Moses led the Israelites until he died and God buried him somewhere in Moab. David was king until he died. Paul and Peter continued their ministries until they were martyred. Even the Apostle John, exiled on Patmos, the only disciple who (it’s believed) died of old age, was still working, writing down the vision given him.

The Bible has no retirement road map. But it does have a concept that applies to retirement in the twenty-first century, and that concept is stewardship.

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cracked-flag-fragment-america-dividedThe fabric of American society is tearing at the seams. Whether witnessed through the disruptive insurgencies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders or the more mundane fissures of pop culture and daily consumerism, Americans are increasingly divided and diverse.

Yet even in our rash attempts to dismantle Establishment X and Power Center Y, we do so with a peculiar nostalgia of the golden days of yore. You know, those days when institutions mattered?

This is particularly evident in the appeal of Mr. Trump, whose calls to burn down the houses of power come pre-packaged with a simultaneous disdain for the power of bottom-up diversity and the liberty it requires. Once the tattered castle on the hill is torched to the ground, we’re told, we will receive a greater castle on a higher hill with a far more deserving king. The scepter will be yuge, and with power restored to the hands of a man shrewd enough to exploit it, surely we will “win” again. (more…)

23-VIEW-master675Under the feudalistic societies of old, status was organized through state-enforced hierarchies, leaving little room for the levels of status anxiety we see today.

For us, however, status competition ranges wide and free, leading to multiple manifestations and a whole heap of status signaling.

Such signaling is as old as the free society itself, of course. Whether sending their children to fancy classes and fencing lessons, accumulating ever-expensive luxury goods, or boasting in the labels of their fair trade coffee and the nobility of non-profit activism, aristocrats have always found ways to signal their superiority.

Yet these preferences have shifted over time, the present form of which is carving out its own unique space. In a recent report from the Adam Smith Institute, Prof. Ryan Murphy explores the situation, noting that while past generations were more concerned with “conspicuous consumption” and “keeping up with the Joneses” – chasing faster cars and bigger diamonds – the current pursuit of status has adapted toward “conspicuous authenticity.”

We are now seeing a “new status signaling,” Murphy observes, where society has “moved beyond associating ostentatious displays of wealth with high status,” opting instead for behavior that signifies we are above and beyond such base behavior. (more…)

JMMIt’s a new year, and I’ve had occasion to do some retrospection on various things, including the Journal of Markets & Morality. The Fall 2015 issue is at the printers, and that marks the completion of 18 years of articles, reviews, essays, translations, and controversies. (Subscribe today to get your copy!)

Here are the top 5 most downloaded articles from the JMM website (which went live in 2012):

1) Svetozar Pejovich, “The Effects of the Interaction of Formal and Informal Institutions on Social Stability and Economic Development,” Journal of Markets & Morality 2, no. 2 (Fall 1999): 164-181.

Abstract
The purpose of this paper is to develop a testable theory—the interaction thesis—capable of explaining why there are differences in economic stability and growth rates between various countries; or, stated negatively, why less efficient countries do not duplicate the economic policies of more successful ones. The interaction thesis identifies the interplay of formal and informal rules as a principal factor affecting economic stability and growth rates. Furthermore, the thesis also sheds light on how the method of choosing formal rules is a major circumstance upon which the interplay of formal and informal rules depends.
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children1With our newfound economic prosperity and the political liberalization of the West, we have transitioned into an era of hyper consumerism and choice. This involves all sorts of blessings, to be sure, but it brings its own distinct risks.

Whether it be materialism or a more basic idolatry of choice, such distortions will be sure to diminish or disintegrate any number of areas across society. But the deleterious effects on the family and children are particularly pronounced.

Throughout most of human history, children were most often the brightest light in an otherwise bleak existence of poverty, toil, and high mortality. For those with little freedom, few resources, and zero opportunity, children were a blessing and a bounty: a gift (and not just for the labor). Now, however, presented with a range of vocational options and the wealth and leisure to support them, our priorities have significantly shifted. We are prodded toward career or education or adventurism first, teased by a platter of technological tools to further prevent a child’s intrusion into our planned prospects. (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Thursday, December 10, 2015
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Over at the blog of the Catholic University of America’s School of Business and Economics, Drs. Chad and Brian Engelland, authors of an article on consumerism and the cardinal virtues for an upcoming issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, share their insights on the challenge of consumerism in a commercial society:

Is consumerism an inevitable by-product of capitalism?

Brian: Capitalistic systems do come with the inherent risk that the acquisition of private property can turn into an excessive drive for money, power and prestige, rather than as a means for authentic human development. But people living in socialistic economic systems also fall victim to consumerism.

Chad: Companies provide many goods and services that solve genuine problems and improve lives. But consumerism trains us to think of products as the solution to all our problems, and to think about only problems that advertised products might be able to solve. Practice of the cardinal virtues offers us an antidote. Our article is intended to help both consumers and producers avoid this ever-present possibility. The cardinal virtues enable us to engage in business and buy products without compromising human development and happiness.

Read more . . . .

arion_press_printing_san_franciscoThroughout its history, the American economy has transitioned from agrarian to industrial to information-driven.

Given our newfound status, manual labor is increasingly cast down in the popular imagination, replaced by white-collar jobs, bachelor’s degrees, and ladder-climbing. Whether due to new avenues and opportunities or a more general distaste for the slow and mundane, work with the hands is either ignored or discouraged, both as vocational prospect and consumeristic priority.

Amid this sea of new efficiencies, the art of craftsmanship is at a particular disadvantage. Whereas things used to be made with a certain individual artistry (out of necessity, no doubt), so much has become industrialized and systematized. That shift has led to unprecedented blessings, to be sure, whether in time, money, energy, and convenience, and for those fruits we should be grateful and rejoice.

But even in an economy such as this, there remains a need, a market, a knack for the slow and steady. There remains room not just for the magnificence of a well engineered microchip, but for a masterfully carved table and an artfully tailored suit. Creative service comes in all kinds, and God has a plan to both meet our immediate needs and fill our bodies, souls, and spirits with beauty and wonder. (more…)