Government, industry, media, all consistently refer to us, not as people, but as “consumers”. Our economy is driven by consumer spending. News media report on it daily; if it is up, investors buy, if it is down, they sell. We spend not to satisfy needs. We consider shopping to be entertainment. We purchase things we neither need nor particularly want, as we respond to manipulative marketing by those who gain from our wanton spending. We are defined by our consumption.
We were not always like this. People once worked together to provide the goods and services needed to sustain their communities. They were family, friends, and neighbors, and they also were savers. They had savings accounts in their local banks, which loaned the funds as mortgages so others could buy houses in the community. I bought my home many years ago with a loan from the local bank on Main Street where it had been for 100 years. It was a 30 year mortgage with a 6% interest rate. I opened a savings account there, which paid me 5% interest even as those savings helped my neighbors buy their homes. All that changed with bank consolidation, resulting in the demise of many local banks. TD Bank, headquartered in another country, now occupies the building on Main Street.
With large financial institutions came intensive marketing and proliferation of credit cards. They enticed people with steady incomes and savings accounts to get credit cards and “buy now, pay later”. With credit card use, spending increased and debt became common. They later introduced debit cards to allow purchases through direct bank account withdrawals, further encouraging spending. Debit card expenditures result in exorbitant fees if they exceed the account balance; credit card expenditures incur high interest rates on charges carried over from month-to-month. The financial institutions reap huge profits.
Corporations use new technology to devise more effective ways to manipulate consumption. Mobile devices, the internet, and social networks provide access to personal information, which they use for “personalized” marketing. Mobile devices can function as debit or credit cards, making it easier to buy on impulse. We define ourselves by our purchases; we purchase and wear products that flaunt the logos of the stores we frequent. We spend and incur debt without asking ourselves the simple question, “Do I really want or need this?”
We eagerly consume the products that corporations foist on us. As we spend, the corporations profit; as we incur debt, financial institutions profit. Our contributions to our communities and to society diminish. One definition of consume is to waste, to destroy; our consumption fosters waste and exploitation of natural resources, creates pollution, destroys the environment, and corrupts society. We have earned the title “consumers.”