I sometimes read or hear of people complaining our society is plagued by (spit, spit) consumerism. This always sounded like some sort of epithet but didn’t really have much meaning to me. It was just a word that every “right thinking” person knew was a “bad thing”.

It wasn’t until I read this article that things started to jell in my mind. It was this paragraph that really connected with me:

Humans are not merely consumers. Every consumer is also a producer as well, and production is how we have improved our standards of living from the dawn of man till today. Every luxury, every great invention, every work of art, every modern convenience that we enjoy was the product of a mind – in some cases, of more than one. It then stands to reason that the more minds there are, the more innovations we will have as well. A reductio ad absudum reveals the obvious truth that a cure for cancer is more likely to emerge from a society of a billion people than from one of only a handful of individuals.

The problem I have with people that whine about consumerism is that they are only looking at one side of the picture. In order for consumers to exist there must be producers. In a free market there tends to be more production capacity than consumer capacity. And that excess capacity makes things more affordable and available to everyone.

Production and market competition yields tremendous benefits to society. Extended lifespans and higher quality of life are just the most obvious. Entertainment via Netflix, MTV, professional sports, and concerts might be considered frivolous and a waste but it is an improvement in the quality of life that is a result of our being able to produce more than what we need for survival. It is our excess production capacity that makes it possible to earn our food and shelter in fewer hours per week than it would have 1000 years ago. Back then a similar amount of effort, unless you were royalty, nobility, or politically connected, would have yielded death by malnutrition, disease, or exposure.

Yes, there must be physical limits to human growth on a single planet. But we don’t yet know what those limits are on this planet. The barriers to interplanetary travel and exo-planetary living are high. But from a simple available energy balance sheet (do the arithmetic on how many Joules of sunlight energy fall on a 40 acre field on a summer day, then extrapolate to the vastness of interplanetary space) it doesn’t seem farfetched to claim that human expansion beyond this planet is feasible.

Continued improvements in the human condition depend on increased production. In a free market producers must always produce goods desired by the consumers. Some of the products will seem frivolous but the net result has always been progress in improving the lives of people and more productivity per person. Moving society toward greater productivity will yield far greater benefits than discouraging consumption. Just look at the benefits of increased productivity of the last 1000 years.

When you hear someone use the word “consumerism” in a disparaging way demand they look at the requirements for it’s existence and consequences of it. And that is “productivism” and vast improvements in the human condition. Demand they tell you what they have against increases in productivity and improved quality of life.

9 thoughts on “Productivism

  1. As the best lies contain a significant amount of truth, I believe that the problem in the minds of those who use “consumerism” as a dirty word is that they are conflating consumption with materialism. That conflation is tripping them up, preventing them from understanding. They have been deceived.

    There is in fact a lot of materialism. That Narcissist kid who murdered several people in California recently was a materialist. The materialist covets and hates that which he does not have, and hates those who have it.

    In a free society, the consumer produces enough to allow him to trade with others for the things he wants but does not produce himself, and thus both sides of the transaction win. There is a world of difference between a materialist and a producer/consumer, which the confused and the deceived cannot (or will not) see.

    Leftists, by the way, are as a rule materialists— Covet, despise and hate. There is also a certain amount of projection, as they see only greed and avarice in the busy world around them. The collectivists aim to get theirs through wholesale robbery while preventing others from getting it. It is an inherently anti-production mindset, but ultimately it is in truth an anti-human mindset.

    Also see my old post “Producerism”.

    • I stand by the term “producerism” also;
      Productive, consumptive. Consumer, producer. Consumerism, producerism. See? Never mind that it’s not in the dictionary— that’s only because so many leftists control the popular language. No More!

  2. “And that is “productivism” and vast improvements in the human condition. Demand they tell you what they have against increases in productivity and improved quality of life.”

    That’s easy. Again and again; they think there are billions too many people on this planet. I was told, straight up, in public school that we shouldn’t be feeding the poor because that would only result in them having more babies and contributing to the “over-population problem”. Note also that the global left hates (and I mean HATES) the western “consumer” culture, but says nothing at all about the culture of starving, third world dictatorships. This is no mystery— Humanity is the enemy, whatever may be said to mask the sentiment.

    Understand that and you’ll never be left wondering again at the apparent hypocrisy and stupidity of the left (or should I say The Dark Side?). It is the one, totally consistent thread running through all of it, holding it all together, throughout all of history.

  3. “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers,” is the famous misquote attributed to Thomas J Watson of IBM. Others at the time said in other words that computers were of great importance for only a tiny number of things, and most people wouldn’t “need them.” And yet, and yet… the greatest driver of computer technology advancement hasn’t been “needs,” because visicalc and WordPerfect don’t (ahem) need a lot of CPU power, but gamers, people that use computer power as a recreational activity, a luxury consumer good that, in an effort to fill that desire they were willing to put money down for drove much of the computer revolution as far as increasing power and pushing cost/calculation and watt/calculation down, ever downward, so that it could become ubiquitous.
    It’s “consumerism” that pushes demand for innovation much more than the most basic needs, which have been meed and exceeded long ago. Less than 2% of the nation are farmers, and less than 10% are involved in the total food production and delivery system, compared to greater than 90% of the population, which it’s been for almost all of the humanity since we stopped being hunter-gatherers and started farming. In the last 200 years, shifted from 90% to 2%, from a vast majority to a tiny (but vital) minority. All because want rather than need.

  4. “In a free market producers must always produce goods desired by the consumers.”

    In reality, they must produce goods that consumers will pay more than the cost of production for (profit). Once there is no profit, production declines.

    • “Once there is statism (authoritarianism) with its wholesale robbery and its punitive barriers to production, wealth building and free trade, production declines.”

      There. Fixed it for you. Now you’re in a position to begin to understand the political world.

      Wholesale robbery and its attendant decline are the goal of all statist systems, for it is not wealth and prosperity that matter to the power-hungry Narcissist, but RELATIVE wealth and prosperity. Relative wealth and prosperity is easiest achieved through holding back your neighbor than by exerting your own effort to rise above him.

      As I was saying; it starts with materialism (covetousness), leads to envy, anger, etc., and ends up in mass destruction. The horrible results have never bothered any statist, for it is the ultimate goal of statism– lure us into stagnation, decline and mass destruction through promises of peace, easy gain and prosperity. All we have to do is give up our “selfish individualism” or our “greed” (which we all know is bad anyway) and let someone else take care of us. It works practically every time, too.


    • That’s implied by “free market”.
      The only way your exception applies to a free market is for hypothetical goods whose best achievable cost of production is higher than the highest price any potential consumer will pay. In that case, market demand will be zero.

      Meanwhile, on the original article, “Every consumer is also a producer as well” — not so. There clearly are consumers who produce nothing. I’ve had some managers to whom that applies. A lot of government employees are in this category (and in that case, “nothing” is often a charitable expression of their actual output).

  5. The Malthusians do have a point. Exponential growth in a finite system can’t continue on forever. However, where the Malthusian go wrong is to assume that they have the answer to the question of how many is too many. According to the rich ones who put up the Georgia Guidestones, we should strive to keep human population at around 500,000. I do not want to be left to clean up THAT mess.

  6. In as society in which someone who wishes to consume must pay for that
    acquisition via producing something of value it would be accurate to say
    EVERYONE is a producer and a consumer. That is now not even close to being accurate. Because of government imposed welfare programs VAST numbers of people consume large quantities of products without producing ANYTHING of value….indeed many produce NOTHING but trash, refuse and crime.

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