Posts tagged with: consumerism

scholarshipOver at The Gospel Coalition, Hunter Baker reviews Abraham Kuyper’s newly translated Scholarship, a compilation of two convocation addresses given to Vrije Universiteit (Free University). He offers a helpful glimpse into Kuyper’s views on Christian scholarship, as well as how today’s colleges and universities might benefit from heeding his counsel.

Recommending the book to both students and university leaders, Baker believes Kuyper’s insights are well worth revisiting, particularly amid today’s “tremendous upheaval in higher education”:

All universities, and certainly Christian ones, face a landscape in which students have been largely replaced by consumers. The change is not the fault of the students so much as it is a consequence of the extraordinary rise in tuition prices during the past quarter century. Instead of seeing education as a good that enriches lives and provides learners with tools and habits useful to making a career, we’ve embarked on a course in which students all but demand to know which career and exactly how much money….

…Kuyper has much to say to both students and institutions in these century-old addresses. He would resist the transformation of the university into something more like a business. In light of his idea of sphere sovereignty, I think he’d say a school is a different kind of endeavor than a profit-making business—and I think he’d be right. Universities (including Christian ones, especially Christian ones) must find a way to reduce the market-driven nature of their activities…At the same time, students must place more emphasis on developing scholarly (in the best sense of the word) habits and less on simply progressing toward a credential.

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black-friday1For many, Black Friday epitomizes everything nasty American hyper-consumerism. Stores everywhere are plagued with overly aggressive shoppers, each stuffed to the brim with carb-laden Thanksgiving chow and yet ever-more hungry for the next delicious deal.

It’s all rather disgusting, no?

Quite the contrary, argues Chris Horst over at OnFaith. “Black Friday may have its warts, but let’s not forget the reason for the Black Friday season,” he writes. “The DNA of Black Friday is generosity.”

Wielding a fine mix of basic economics, Christian history, and some good old nostalgia, Horst encourages us to not get caught up in anti-consumerist dismay and instead kick off the holiday season with charity and cheer:

Black Friday commences the Christmas season. This year, Sunday commemorates the official start of the Advent season, but for most Americans, Black Friday initiates the nostalgia and cheer we love most about December. It orients our imaginations toward others and away from ourselves…It’s when Americans turn their attention away from turkey and football and toward buying gifts for one another. We move from Thanksgiving to generosity, shifting from gratefulness for what we have to open-handedness toward those around us…

…Even more, this event is good news for more than just festive shoppers. Black Friday is a big deal for our economy and, consequently, a big deal for all of us…The $600 billion we spend on FitBits, Patagonia ski jackets, and hand-thrown pottery doesn’t just evaporate when we spend it. Those purchases create and sustain livelihoods in garage workshops in our neighborhoods and in warehouses across the globe. They help hobbyists turn their handiwork into employment and give many around the world a shot at a decent job.

This Black Friday, suppress your inner Grinch when you’re tempted to share the story of yet another crazy person fighting over a scarce number of flat screen TVs. Embrace the redemptive side of Black Friday, one that celebrates this season of family and generosity and one that propels our economy forward.

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Today at The Imaginative Conservative, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, in an excerpt from his recent book, bemoans what he sees as “The Spoiling of America.” While sympathetic to his support for self-discipline, I find his analysis of our consumer culture to be myopic. He writes,

Without even thinking about it we have gotten used to having it our way. Because excellent customer service is ubiquitous we believe it must be part of the natural order. The service in the restaurant is always friendly, efficient and courteous to a fault. The menus are perfectly written and professionally designed not only to inform, but to whet the appetite in a pleasing way. The re-fills on your drink are free, the food is tasty and reasonably priced, the decor is interesting and the ambiance carefully constructed. Is there a complaint? The footman-server will take the blame, the butler-manager will offer you a free dessert and quietly slip you a gift card to soften the price of your next visit as the porter opens the door.

The same delightful experience awaits you at the big box hardware store, the supermarket, the appliances store and every other major chain. Indeed, even the doctors, nurses and dentists have been trained in customer care. Communications with the customer are superb. You will receive thank you emails and polite enquiries about your experience. If you fill in a questionnaire you might win a free vacation or a hamper of other goodies. Pampering you further is not a nuisance. It becomes an exciting little game in which you might win a prize, for remember the customer is king and Everyman in America must be coddled and cuddled in one big Fantasyland where everything is wonderful all the time and everybody is always happy.

Longenecker reasons that we become addicted to fleeting pleasures and that this consumerist mentality has even corrupted religion. He continues, (more…)

cherrypieShould we always take the side of the individual consumer?

That’s the question Rod Dreher asks in a recent post on “Amazon and the Cost of Consumerism.” It’s a good question, one that people have been asking for centuries. The best answer that has been provided—as is usually the case when it comes to economic questions—was provided by the nineteenth-century French journalist Frédéric Bastiat.

Bastiat argues, rather brilliantly, that,

consumption is the great end and purpose of political economy; that good and evil, morality and immorality, harmony and discord, everything finds its meaning in the consumer, for he represents mankind.

He summarizes his argument as follows:

There is a fundamental antagonism between the seller and the buyer.

The former wants the goods on the market to be scarce, in short supply, and expensive.

The latter wants them abundant, in plentiful supply, and cheap.

Our laws, which should at least be neutral, take the side of the seller against the buyer, of the producer against the consumer, of high prices against low prices, of scarcity against abundance.

They operate, if not intentionally, at least logically, on the assumption that a nation is rich when it is lacking in everything.

Bastiat uses this as the basis of his argument that the interests of the consumer, rather than the producer, align more closely with the interests of mankind (see addendum below for more on this reasoning). Producers want scarcity since it increases their profits. If they can’t produce scarcity in the market, they’ll seek out government protections that create artificial scarcity (which is why those who are pro-business are rarely pro-market).

Book publishers don’t like the fact that Amazon is reducing the scarcity of their product, because it lowers the cost. But what is the result from the consumer side? The lower prices allow consumers to consume more books than they otherwise would be able to afford.
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[Part 1 is here.]

The free economy frees entrepreneurs to create new wealth for themselves and others, which brings us to the issue of consumption. In his book Crunchy Cons, conservative author Rod Dreher describes consumerism this way: “Consumerism fetishizes individual choice, and sees its expansion as unambiguous progress. A culture guided by consumerist values is one that welcomes technology without question and prizes efficiency…. A consumerist society encourages its members both to find and express their personal identity through the consumption of products.”

Dreher’s critique of consumerism is pointed, and many people, including many Christians, could benefit from hearing it. At the same time, though, Dreher’s description runs the risk of obscuring the crucial differences between consumerism and capitalism.

It’s true that capitalist economies are far better at wealth creation than socialist economies, which is why freer economies tend to have fewer people living in extreme poverty. But capitalism and consumerism—far from being necessarily joined at the hip—are not even compatible over the long term. A moment’s reflection suggests the reason. (more…)

The West has made some remarkable steps forward culturally in the past several generations, as, for instance, in the areas of civil rights (the unborn being a notable exception), race relations, and cooperation among Christians of different traditions. We shouldn’t indulge a false nostalgia that overlooks this progress. That being said, you can visit almost any major city in the free world today and find evidence of cultural decay on a host of fronts: malls dripping with images of sensuality and hedonism; girls from respectable, law abiding families dropped off at school dressed like prostitutes; boys sitting beside them in class able to pull up a world of pornography on their smartphones and often doing so; chronically high divorce rates; a plummeting number of homes with the biological father present; commercials telling you, implicitly or explicitly, to Obey Your Thirst; recreational drug abuse—on and on we could go.

The challenge extends even to what many of us would characterize as “good homes.” (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
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????????????????????????????????????In a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal, Emory economics professor Paul H. Rubin makes an interesting argument about the way economists tend to over-elevate and/or misconstrue the role of competition in the flourishing of markets.

“Competition plays a supporting role,” he argues, but “cooperation makes markets thrive”:

The way we use the term competition instead of cooperation fosters anti-market bias. “Competition” carries a negative connotation because it implies winners and losers, and our minds naturally feel sympathy for the losers. But cooperation evokes a positive response: It’s a win-win situation with no losers. And in fact the word competition doesn’t depict market activity as aptly as the word cooperation. The “competitive economy” would be better described as the “cooperative economy.”

Consider the most basic economic unit, the transaction. A transaction is cooperative because both parties gain from a voluntary exchange. There is competition in markets, but it’s actually competition for the right to cooperate. Firms must compete for the privilege of selling to consumers—for the right to cooperate with consumers. Workers compete for the right to cooperate with employers. Competition matters because it ensures that the most efficient players will gain the right to cooperate on the best terms available. But competition plays a supporting role, while cooperation makes markets thrive. (more…)

CoolMy pastor made a good point in his sermon Sunday that the more secular we become as a nation the less we talk about “abundance.” Instead, the national dialogue of our politics shift to discussions about scarcity. Many politicians are stuck in the mindset of talking about things like wealth distribution and rationing. The more materialist and less spiritual we become as a nation, the more inclined we are to fight over the table scraps.

If we don’t look to God, we won’t believe the Lord can bless us. In turn, many only want to get what they can. This is all too evident in the excessive shopping we often see where consumers believe stuff equals being blessed. Sadly, some try and substitute stuff for what only the Gospel can provide.

In his 1925 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation , President Calvin Coolidge talks a lot about abundance, a word he used in most of his Thanksgiving Day Proclamations. The Coolidge presidency occurred over a time of unprecedented technological innovation in America as well as economic surplus and growth. Coolidge had a keen understanding of what blessings and abundance meant for the nation and why it was essential that the country “progress in moral and spiritual things.” Material advancement alone was not sufficient. Here is an excerpt from the 1925 proclamation:

The season approaches when, in accordance with a long established and respected custom, a day is set apart to give thanks to Almighty God for the manifold blessings which His gracious and benevolent providence has bestowed upon us as a nation and as individuals.

We have been brought with safety and honor through another year, and, through the generosity of nature, He has blessed us with resources whose potentiality in wealth is almost incalculable; we are at peace at home and abroad; the public health is good; we have been undisturbed by pestilences or great catastrophes; our harvests and our industries have been rich in productivity; our commerce spreads over the whole world, and Labor has been well rewarded for its remunerative service.

As we have grown and prospered in material things, so also should we progress in moral and spiritual things. We are a God-fearing people who should set ourselves against evil and strive for righteousness in living, and observing the Golden Rule we should from our abundance help and serve those less fortunately placed. We should bow in gratitude to God for His many favors.

Unfortunately, most politicians and leaders today are unable to speak with clarity about spiritual wealth and abundance, thus their vision is limited because it remains solely on the things of this world.

Gray Matters, Brett McCrackenIn his 2010 book, Hipster Christianity, Brett McCracken explored the dynamics of a particular cultural movement in (and against) modern evangelicalism. In his new book, Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty, he pulls the lens back, focusing on how the church more broadly ought to approach culture, particularly when it comes to consuming it.

Though McCracken’s book focuses on just four areas — food, drink, music, and film — his basic framework and the surrounding discussion offers much for Christians to ponder and absorb when it comes to cultural engagement at large.

In an interview with On Call in Culture, McCracken was kind enough to answer some questions on the topic.

Early on, you explain that your book is not about “making culture,” but about “consuming culture well.” Yet you also note how consumption and creation can intersect and overlap. How does our approach to consumption impact our creative output?

In order to be a good creator of culture, one must be a good consumer of it. We will never make great films if we don’t love the greatest films, know the greatest films, and understand why they are great. The best chefs are the ones who love food the most and take the time to consume it well — to pay attention to flavor profiles, to savor tastes that go well together, to understand what cooking methods work and don’t work, etc. The great artists in history didn’t just make their masterpieces from some innate mastery of technique. They studied the masters first and did the work of understanding why one painting or symphony was a masterpiece and why another one wasn’t. They were good consumers before they were good creators. (more…)

Blog author: johnteevan
Monday, October 7, 2013
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Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc

This first appeared in my newsletter, Economic Prospect, in late 2008. Looking back after five years I still like it.

The American failure to save is matched by our insistence on spending to have it all. One part of the problem is the consumer’s love of debt. The other part is the government’s love of debt. Both love debt to enjoy things now and to put off the day of reckoning. How did we get so far from the idea of being content with having enough food, clothing, and shelter?

  1. This is a complex issue based at first in ‘scarcity’ which leads people to create products to fill real needs. When these products are produced people have jobs and can afford more products. Say’s Law says that production creates its own demand.
  2. There comes a point where we move beyond some invisible line and marketing takes over to create imagined needs in people. These needs are filled by more products creating more jobs. This happened after WW2 and made us very prosperous.
  3. Then there is a third stage when the credit industry takes over and tries to convince people to borrow not just for houses or cars (durables) but for anything to enhance their way of life. This started in the 1970s. Consumer debt is $2 trillion but this kind of borrowing creates still more jobs at least for as long as the party lasts.

But the day of reckoning has arrived. Will we get the point and change our behavior? Apparently not. First, the government sold bonds, then raided the trust funds (Social Security), then we borrow to stimulate the economy…then we just borrow without limit.

If Americans are not saving, who will loan us all this money? The answer is the Chinese and Asians who are amazing savers. They will loan us the money. China already owns nearly $2 trillion in U.S. government bonds. This is not a small issue.

Economics in One Lesson : The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics

Economics in One Lesson : The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics

This classic work provides the layman with a clear understanding of the economic way of thinking. A must-read for the beginner!