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Materialism

How many times have you heard criticisms of how we in modern society are crass consumers, and that we simply seek to consume more and more and more in an unending quest for status, relative positioning, salvation, or some other reason. Now, I have personal reasons to worry about my own materialism – in retrospect, some purchases I have made prevented me from saving or pursuing other more worthy activities. But generally, my consumerism/materialism should not worry my neighbors much. This is not news, and we have discussed this before on the site.

However, what if those who criticized crass consumerism took to heart what Adam Smith said about our economic lives – that the sole and only purpose of production is consumption. Would those who criticize mass materialism also slap bumper stickers on their cars that read:

  • It is preoccupation with possessions producing goods and services,  more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly. –Thoreau
  • The love of money Producing goods and services is the root of all kinds of evil. –Jesus
  • Materialism Producing goods and services others value coarsens and petrifies everything, making everything vulgar, and every truth false. Henri Frédéric Amiel (1821-1881) Swiss writer.

The changes I made do not change the meaning in any way. To consume, even crassly, one must produce. And even if you argue that I consume ludicrous and useless goods, in order for me to be able to do that, I must have produced something else that people want. Producerism and consumerism are two sides of the same coin. They can only be separated when the state or some charity redistributes resources from the productive class to the consumptive class. They are the same thing. Doesn’t make for catchy bumper stickers does it?

3 Responses to “Materialism”

  1. harry says:

    I don’t want to start a food fight here, Wintercow, but whenever I think of materialism, I link it to progressive humanism — the idea that because of the promise of science we can master the world through our epistemological wizardry. Such thinking is tempting, but it ignores our metaphysical limits.

    I know what you refer to when you speak of the material world, and property, which is anathema to people who wish to have the property of others without having to work for it. But Materialism is not for people owning material or its proxy, money. Rather, Materialism traces its roots to Hegel.

    It’s been a while since I picked up Copleston’s History of Philosophy, and I know I should give myself a refresher course. With Hegel, I was always at a disadvantage not being fluent in German philosophical speak, but I never had any reason to believe that it would be less penetrable if I had learned it.

    I prefer to read Bastiat, whom you have published on your excellent blog, and who speaks more clearly, and to your point.

    What I’m wondering is: If we don’t create the conditions for prosperity — a free land of opportunity — how are we to expect to do anything charitable? I’d like you to ask your students that question.

  2. wintercow20 says:

    Many of my students would (incorrectly) argue that it is charitable acts that create the conditions for prosperity. They hold onto this fantasy even after taking several economics courses from me. Either I am the world’s worst economics professor (possible) or it is really hard to change religious views (more possible).

  3. Harry says:

    Therefore some do not hold onto the fantasy. That’s great news!

    In my book it means you are a beter perfesser than Paul Krugman, and I do not mean that to be a thinly-veiled insult. You also have more on the ball than Tim Geithner, Hank Paulsen, John Snow, and Bill Miller. And John Corzine! Keep up the good work.

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