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Old November 16th, 2012, 08:21 AM   #1

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The Rise of Consumerism in Great Britain


Hello all,

I have been thinking about the system of consumerism and wondered how it came to be so prevalent in specifically British society. I'm thinking about the mass of the population, how did everybody become involved in this way of life?

There are so many aspects to examine such as the redevelopment of industrial cities, the declining influence of the church and the expansion of the media and advertising. Then there was the privatisation of most public infrastructure and the ability for regular people to become shareholders in big business. The rise of the welfare state made basic survival less of a concern for many people as well, but why did they turn to further consumption rather than something else? The easy access to credit was probably instrumental in it.

The role of the average British person as the consumer is relatively new and I suppose I have taken this for granted for a long time. I don't really understand how this society has undergone such an enormous change in such a short period of time.

See, my parents weren't a part of that wave in the 80s or indeed 90s. They didn't own their home, a car or go on holiday for most of my early life. They didn't spend beyond their means at all so I'm left puzzled as to how this all came about and why I am in a country that is really quite alien to the values I was raised on yet, at the same time, is the only society I know.

Anyone is welcome and encouraged to chip in. Minor points, a big essay...I'll read them all and hopefully we can have a discussion.

So please, tell me what you think and if you have suggestions for reading (I have access to journals and academic books) please let me know. Also, any critical historical contexts that I am not giving due consideration...let me know.

I am very ambivalent about this topic and want to learn more but if there was a sticking point, it would be how the average person adapted to the rise of consumerism. Those that would have been in the working/lower classes who now have a life where inessentials are essential and shopping is a leisure activity rather than a necessity for survival.

I don't mind what your views are, I am trying to work this out myself so the broader the better.

Thanks in advance
Mr Kal
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Old November 16th, 2012, 08:27 AM   #2

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Should this have been in the European board? My bad, sorry.
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Old November 16th, 2012, 08:29 AM   #3

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Does consumerism have a specific definition?

Because I would class needing a new mobile phone every year as being consumerism. But what about a basic car / house / computer / clothes? Replaced mostly when they break.
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Old November 16th, 2012, 08:56 AM   #4

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The idea of living on debt seems to have become the expected way of life for citizens here in the US as well as our government operating in deficit. Even though we have been in financial straits for four years, Americans are still indulging in deficit spending for retail items they don't really need. The insane deficit spending by Government is seen as normal by the insane credit debt powered spending of our citizens, even when it's clear we're headed to disaster with this bad economy:

"Total consumer credit outstanding peaked at $2.58 trillion in July 2008. Today it stands at $2.50 trillion. Revolving credit card debt peaked at $972 billion in September 2008 and subsequently declined to $790 billion by April 2011. It now stands at $801 billion, as living well beyond our means has resumed its appeal. Meanwhile, non-revolving credit for automobiles, boats, student loans, and mobile homes peaked at $1.61 trillion in July 2008 and “crashed” all the way down to $1.58 trillion in May 2010. Once Bennie fired up the printing presses, the government car companies decided to make subprime auto loans again and the Federal government started doling out student loans like a pez dispenser, all was well in the non-revolving consumer loan world. The debt outstanding has soared to $1.7 trillion, a full $90 billion above the pre-crash peak. So, after three and a half years of “austerity” and supposed deleveraging, consumer debt outstanding has fallen by 3%."

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CAUSE, EFFECT & THE FALLACY OF A RETURN TO NORMALCY - Washington's Blog
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Old November 16th, 2012, 08:58 AM   #5

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Quote:
Originally Posted by RusEvo View Post
Does consumerism have a specific definition?

Because I would class needing a new mobile phone every year as being consumerism. But what about a basic car / house / computer / clothes? Replaced mostly when they break.
Perhaps when feelings of self-worth/esteem become inextricably linked to material possessions for much of the population. The culture of 'keeping up with the Joneses' in the suburbs for the middle and lower-middle classes would be the perfect example of this mentality.

But when did this reach everybody to the point that, you can be a non-participant to a point, but it is the backbone of society at large.

I had a cashpoint ask me if I knew whether Cravendale milk stays fresh for x days just the other day while I was waiting for my money.

I mean consumerism as the dominant culture in society. Conspicuous consumption. When did that reach the British working classes and how did people adapt from being primarily producers to being primarily consumers?
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Old November 16th, 2012, 09:39 AM   #6

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Quote:
Originally Posted by RusEvo View Post
Does consumerism have a specific definition?

Because I would class needing a new mobile phone every year as being consumerism. But what about a basic car / house / computer / clothes? Replaced mostly when they break.
I think the culture of 'throw away and replace' is an integral part of consumerism ... a great many products (often under the guise of health and safety) are designed in such a way that they break easily and are easier and cheaper to replace than mend.

Coupled with the import of cheaply produced goods, the prevalent attitude these days seems to be that it's fine to bin stuff and buy replacements. Maybe it was just the childhood I had (1970s) but I remember that when something broke or wore out in our house, whether it was clothes or a radio or anything else, it would be mended whenever possible, not chucked out.

Interesting OP and question though ... in not many decades we've gone from a "make do and mend" attitude to "chuck it out and buy another". Even if something is still perfectly usable, there's also the culture of always needing the newest product.

Personally I can see two trends for starters ... the reaction to wartime and post-war austerity with the 1950s bringing in the availabilty of affordable electrical goods and 'luxury items' etc for many more people, and secondly the globalisation of markets and production which mean that it's become possible for companies to produce goods on the other side of the world and import them, sell them cheap and still turn a nice profit.

Actually make that three trends ... I think the advent of The Teenager as a whole new market, with trends and fashions and the spending power to pursue them must have contributed a great deal too.
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Old November 16th, 2012, 09:41 AM   #7

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So easily obtained revolving credit with insane interest rates has nothing to do with it over there?
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