Food for thought: How unique is American Consumerism?


Apologies for the radio silence the past few weeks – it has been a hectic push to sell the majority of things I had in storage in Chicago, pack up my childhood room in central Illinois and get ready for my trip to New Zealand.

I’m writing this post on my flight to London – making a quick trip to activate my UK visa (long story, for another time) and then back to Chicago before heading to New Zealand on Sunday!

I’ve had a chance to reflect on my earlier post on the accumulation of belongings – and had a good discussion with a friend of mine.  I brought up my frustration with the perceived focus by Americans on accumulating ‘stuff’ – even if we don’t need it and certainly won’t use it until it has been worn out.  He didn’t challenge the reality of the situation – but did push back as to whether it is a result of American society or rather more fundamental to human nature.

Are Americans really different than those of other nations (for the time being, let’s just focus on consumerism!) – or is it just that we have more disposable income (and more space) and therefore the ability to be wasteful?  It may not be that our society is unique in desire, only in ability.  You can certainly draw comparisons of the US versus other developed nations (for the sake of this discussion, feel free to pick any Western European country) and come to a conclusion that we are more focused on goods and less on experiences – but only time will tell how big that difference is.  And more importantly – the real comparison begins as India and China move toward increasing urbanisation and capitalism.

I don’t have the statistics at hand – but from everything I’ve read, American abuse of the environment in pursuit of a capitalist dream may well pale in comparison to what is about to happen as billions of people move toward the middle class.

I don’t propose to have the answers, but it was a good reality check by my friend to push back on the all-too-often easy path of assuming problems are unique to the US.  A bit of reflection and thought can go a long way to dispel stereotypes (even those we hold about ourselves).

What do you think?  Is this truly a unique American problem?  Something we’re getting better or worse at?  Where do you think the future will head as other countries develop further economically?  Should we be scared or excited?



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