It has become a cliche that the world we inhabit is a consumer centered world, otherwise known as a consumer society. The modern world has been taken over by a consumer culture that stemmed from the consumer revolution. The desire to have luxurious goods and services has come to be common in the modern society (Stearns, 2010).
Consumerism in the 18th Century
The features of consumerism that had prevailed in the pre modern society had a global inclination. Pre-modern consumerism had developed extensively in Asian nations like China and in the Middle East compared to Western Europe. Consumption relied heavily on international trade for instance Chinese silk.
Consumerism in the western countries depended heavily on the global consumerism patterns then. It was stimulated by access to new goods from other countries sugar, silk and cotton from India. Also, the huge profits and goods they got from global trade and trade in slaves that benefited western European states and the northern America (Stearns, 2010).
As the contacts of western European’s contacts replicated through colonial acquisitions, businessmen and diplomats from the West modeled consumer centered aspects. They wanted to replicate consumer behavior back at their home. Tourism has also contributed to the spread of the European consumerism.
Western people persuaded other people to open up to the new forms of consumerism with promises of big markets for western made products in exchange with allowing colonialism. Communities which already had some elements of consumerism merged these elements with those of the people from the west. Finally consumerism became a norm and came to shape societal elements –the socio-economic changes (Stearns, 2007).
Consumerism then did not spread in an even manner. Some form of resistance developed then due conservatism of old communities. Expansion of globalism at the global level had common elements the spreading of goods and methods of marketing used in Western Europe. Economic factors affected consumerism. Some communities had poor economies as compared to others. The spread of consumerism contained aspects of western civilization. Western consumerism patterns are considered to be the most successful (Stearns, 2007).
Hilton (2003) observes that when the twentieth century is talked about, consumption, prices and a material culture are terms that cannot be evaded. These form a background of how the 20th century was understood. During this century, notions of producing goods, labor and wage among other forms of ideologies combined to bring about a Productivity Mentality. This mentality was a big contributor of the growth in consumerism.
The sudden rise in production as a result of the early revolution in industry which was accompanied by massive production of goods and services encouraged consumption. The market rules and forces of supply and demand necessitated a rising in demand. Revolution in industry led to revolution in production. Later, the rise in production led to the rise in the problem of consumption.
Need for consumers became the biggest problem. Consumption was raised to a high level such that it became impossible to sustain. However, this religion of consumerism was contrary to the real religion as religion taught a control of desire while consumerism encouraged the desire to consume. In the world of materialism, this culture has to be pulled into science. Business, as a subject was introduced into American universities as an academic discipline (Stearns, 2010).
Consumerism before the World War 1 era
The world experienced a business boom in the early 1920s. The economy experienced a stable growth and expansion. The growth in the economy was fueled by three factors; availability of machines to be used in the production process, factories which dealt with processing and manufacturing of goods and a standardized process of mass production. These three factors brought about a certain cycle which was self perpetuating.
Standardization in massive production of goods led to a build up of better and effective machinery in the factories. This in turn fuelled higher productivity of goods which was accompanied with higher salaries and wages. With improved production and good wages, a higher demand for goods to consume was inevitable. This demand in turn led to more standardization in production of goods. The business boom progressed until 1929 (Stearns, 2007).
The boom in the 1920s was triggered by a number of factors. One of them was the First World War. This war affected technology in a very big way. The consequences of the war stimulated old industries for instance the steel and petroleum industries thus helping create a ray of new industries like plastic and rayon.
The expenditure grew in this period with more being spent on purchasing and establishing new machines for industrial production. Growth in scientific management also came to be at this period. In 1920s, the government of the United States implemented management in science at a very large scale. It invested a lot of money into scientific research. Then, there was a sharp rise in productivity by workers. Earnings of workers swell making them to become regular consumers.
There was also the psychology of consumption that had germinated in Americans. It is also referred to as conspicuous consumption; and the culture seemed to dominate the mindset of Americans at the aftermath period of the First World War. Examples of this culture included radio establishment, motion pictures, invention of electronic appliances and a revolution in automobile goods.
The psychology that was inclined to consumption was more visible in the automobile industry. The last factor was the relationship that existed between the government and business. During this period, big businessmen in America enjoyed more than they did enjoy in progressivism. The federal government supported big businesses in an enormous way (Stearns, 2007).
Consumerism in the Post World War 1 era
After the period of the great depression of the 1930s, more countries began to focus more on Science and Technology. This was seen as a solution to the many problems that were taunting humanity then. There were a lot of innovations and inventions which led to an upsurge of new products in the market.
Desire to test the newer products that were being produced became the order of the day. Consumption became more of a way of living with people consuming without even considering the dangers posed by some of the products. Concerns about the environment cropped up with people who cared about the environment advocating fro safer consumption patterns. Conservatism arose from these concerns.
The conservatives were against the use of products which had detrimental effects to the consumers and the environment. An example is the debate that arose about the effects of using a chemical called dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane – DDT that was used for making pest control chemicals (Stearns, 2010).
At the second half of the twentieth century, there was a massive growth of the world population more so in Western European Nations. The growth in the world population can be attributed to the revolution in agriculture.
The growth in population due to bettered lives from agricultural production encouraged people to settle and reproduce thus a swell in population that called for increased production of goods to meet the growing population therefore encouraging a culture of consumption (Caldwell, Caldwell, Caldwell, McDonald, & Schindlmayr, 2006).
Consumerism in the twentieth century
Globalization is a strong factor that has promoted the culture of consumerism. In the countries are actively involved in the globalization process like Brazil and the Asian tigers for instance Singapore, South Korea and China, there has been an increase in consumption because of the rapid growth in industry. China has become the second consumer of crude oil in the world because of the high rate at which it is developing to match the pace of the developed world (Agarwal & Dubey, 2003).
Massive production of goods and services has cultivated the culture to consume. As nations continue to compete, newer and more diverse goods and services continue to emerge. Therefore, all these are adding up to this culture of consumerism. Production of goods and services has grown to a surplus level. These goods have had to be dumped in the developing world. For instance, The African market has been flooded with Chinese electronic products (Stearns, 2007).
The modern world is characterized with the culture of consumerism. This culture began in the early years of civilization. However, consumerism gained momentum during the end of 18th century through the early period of the twentieth century. Consumerism has grown due to a number of reasons which include industrial revolution, population growth, and scientific and technological revolution. Though, with adverse effects to the environment, this culture is unlikely to be reversed.
Agarwal, S. K., & Dubey, P. S. (2003). Environmental scenario for 21st century. NewDelhi: A.P.H. Pub. Corp.
Caldwell, J. C., Caldwell, B. K., Caldwell, P., McDonald, P. F., & Schindlmayr, T. (2006). Demographic Transition Theory. Berlin: Springer.
Stearns, P. N. (2010). World history in brief: Major patterns of change and continuity. Boston: Longman.
Stearns, P. N. (2007). World history in documents: A comparative reader. New York: New York University Press.