Wednesday, March 19, 2008
ECON 260: Comment Thread for 3/21
I think that these types of consumption do play an important role in facilitating social relationships because we have developed into a culture highly concerned with this type of consumption, however I also don't think this necessarily means it has a positive relationship with welfare in the long-term. As Goodstein points out happiness is relative, "Exceeding the consumption norms established by one's peer group, family, and personal expectations appears to be the material route to happiness." This suggests that depending on forms of social consumption for increased happiness can only lead to a rat race society.
BUT, there are lots of kinds of social consumption, and there's a good chance they are substitutable. Instead of a giant hummer or the newest iPod you could also have bone carvings, a big garden, the most eco-friendly hybrid. There's plenty of ways to make "consumption" sustainable (maybe not with corporations, right Kiel?). So social consumption could and should still go on.
At the same time "society" is a very vague term. Where does it end? At this point, we are so widespread and such social beings that we can't really separate ourself from society. In that sense, social consumption does have intrinsic value--there is always a context for social consumption.
Social consumption definitely plays a role in maintaining social relationships--it is the basis from which we form relationships and interact with each other. We use our social capital, and our valuations of others' social capital, every time we interact with someone else.
This isn't to say that we 'need' to consume in the ridiculous over the top ways we see today--clearly we've outdone ourselves many times over with hummers, iphones, etc. But social consumption definitely plays a strong role in social relationships, by simple virtue of the way we make those relationships.
If the "want" of the general public could change from material things to an actual drive to be active in ANYTHING, it seems that society would be better off. Then again, perhaps the material world... that of People magazine and the latest jean fit... could be an opiate of the masses. The government tends to benefit from such things, and other people could, too. So no, I don't think social consumption has any worthwhile benefits and I think it ultiamtely turns people into puppets.
I would challenge that hardly any improvements in welfare are everlasting, or static. As we have discussed, perception of one's welfare is largely relative. It has to do with one's perception of themselves in comparison to their past self, as well as their idea of their future self, and others too. So on that note, just because something has limited intrinsic value doesn't make it worthless, it just makes it fluid, temporary.
In this case, consumption of all sorts plays a role in facilitating and maintaining social relationships. Consumption is context dependent, and is not static from one time window to the next. In some cases, a business suit and a hair cut is necessary in achieving positive social welfare (Take that, LC!). Other times, it may not be.
Lastly, I would like to suggest that consumption in itself is valueless. The type of consumption that society deems acceptable may be the biggest obstacle to sustainability. For example, consuming a panoramic vista or twenty minute walk is not negative. Unfortunately, they don't facilitate as many fruitful social relationships as consuming a new car or IPod, as many of my classmates have suggested. I don't think consumption habits will change, and to that effect, I don't think railing against corporations and businesses is positive. Instead, we should encourage ourselves to think creatively about how to meet people's consumption needs while responsible producing goods that don't produce more harm than good.
The culture of consumption is firmly in place in America and while it does have its downfalls, I think it is beneficial to embrace it while the trend is "going green", I suppose.
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