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From Consumption to Consumerism

The term “consumption” is defined as “the using up of goods and services” to satisfy man’s needs. In Neoclassical Economics, an individual gains the more he or she personally consumes. The economic theory deals with the behavior of the homo-economicus (economic human) and one’s relations with one’s environment.

The Rational Choice Theory [51] presents individuals as rational beings acting to realize their interests, having all the tools and reasoning required to make objective decisions in order to maximize their personal gain. In fact, however, these assumptions are not realized. The latest studies in behavioral economics demonstrate that man does not behave rationally.

Prof. Dan Ariely, an international expert in behavioral economics, describes in his book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, many incidents of such irrational behavior. One example deals with a person who was willing to make a 15-minute drive to save seven dollars on a pen that cost $25, but would not drive 15 minutes to save the same seven dollars for a $455 suit [52].

Our aspirations have grown along with technological and industrial advancements. Over time, the world has adopted the “culture of consumption,” otherwise known as “consumerism.” This implies acquisition of goods and services not for satisfying fundamental needs, but for obtaining social status. Thus, the product has become a symbol of one’s social status, and the product itself and its usability are of very little importance. Buying the product may well bring more pleasure to the buyer than its actual use.

In the modern consumer society, happiness has become a function of one’s level of consumption, while consumption itself has become the objective of our lives. Barbara Kruger, an American conceptual artist, memorialized the consumer society with her piece in the Museum of Modern Art—a paper shopping bag with the words: “I shop, therefore I am”—paraphrasing Descartes’ famous words describing the essence of man: “I think, therefore I am.” Man has become a compulsive consumer with a new pastime: shopping. Exaggerated consumption has become a culture, and one of contemporary society’s primary characteristics.

[51] John Scott, “Rational Choice Theory,” from Understanding Contemporary Society: Theories of The Present, edited by G. Browning, A. Halcli, and F. Webster. (U.K., Sage Publications, 2000),

[52] Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (NY, HarperCollins Publishers, 2008), 20

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