Response to Homo Economicus

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After studying sustainability for the past two years the word consumer now tends to leave a nasty taste in my mouth. As stated in the prompt, our society does believer that the bigger the better and of course, biggest is best. Unfortunately, as we learned in The Tragedy of the Commons, it is seemingly impossible to maximize the greatest good for the greatest number of people. These two concepts link only if we believe that “good” equates to “more”, as it does now, instead of “enough” as it should. With the consumer giant that is western civilization, our ratio of percent consumed v. percent of world population is absurd. According to the Worldwatch Institute

“The 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60 percent of private consumption spending, while the one-third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent.”

Chew on that for a second (or don’t). I found this on a page titled “The State of Consumption Today”on the Worldwatch website and found it’s logic to follow exactly where I was headed with my blog response, check it out if you have a minute. My basic thoughts are this, how can we ask a developing country whose population is struggling to meet it’s basic needs and to step up into the “consumer class” to stop consuming so we can stay at our disproportionate level of consumption. We can’t. You wouldn’t tell your neighbor to stop planting plants because you need to use her water for all of yours (what an awesome example, I know.)

So we can’t tell the developing nation to stop, what can we do? We can decrease our levels of consumption, and I think it’s going to take a combination of both collaborative consumption AND green consumption. Beyond that, it’s a simple understanding that more and good are not synonymous, and our well being can, and must, be viewed as independent of our level of consumption. There is a basic need for each human that must be met, and beyond that, many studies, such as the ones Robert Glatter talks about in his Forbes article, show that even a double in income will not satiate our consumer appetites like we think they will. We should be focused on how to understand what really generates well being and how to pass that knowledge on to developing nations. It’s in our best interests to identify our mistakes, and hope the rest of the world can learn from them.

**Disclaimer: Mickey D’s still has delicious, deadly fries. #Guilty. 

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2 responses »

  1. I agree with you, it’s absolutely ridiculous to ask developing countries to curtail their consumption when frequently their consumption does not even make ends meet. A change in consumer attitude is key to curtailing our consumption because the “good” = “more” equation is simply not working. A shift to “good” = “shared” or “good” = “sustainable” would have huge positive benefits on our society and lead the way for increased distribution of wealth.

  2. One thing I am still curious about is where do Wendy’s and Taco Bell fall into the consumption chart? LOL…. The Tragedy of the Commons is a tough issue that I believe society will always face, especially if they are trying to improve themselves. One example I saw recently was from the ever present world of Professional Basketball. Kobe Bryant tweeted that he took a pay cut for the greater good of the team. While he only took a $2 million pay cut from his $15 million a year salary, the same principle can be apple to consumption and those who take more than they need. Bryant realized that he needed to decrease his intake in order for the team to survive and be successful, and the same can be applied to the first world consumers. We as a society need to realize that we are the ones who consume the most and can sit back to provide more to the third world and those in poverty. Without the conscious effort to consume less, we will be repeating the mistakes of the past and be stuck in the same place that we are now, separated.

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