Are you deeply concerned by much of
what global capitalism has created, despite it’s wealth-producing potential? You should be, according to Benjamin Barber.
Global inequality has left the
planet with two kinds of potential customers: 1) the poor of the undeveloped
world, with vast and underserved needs but not the means to fulfill them, and
2) the first-world rich, who have lots of disposable income but few real needs.
While an earlier capitalist
economy, backed by a Protestant ethos, was built around selling goods like
timber and buckwheat that served people’s needs, today’s consumerist economy
sustains profitability by creating needs, convincing us that Wii’s and iPhones
are necessary. It has done so by
promoting what Barber calls an ethos of infantilization, a mind-set of “induced
childishness” in which adults pursue adolescent lifestyles.
Since basic human needs – food, shelter, clothing – have long since been met
for most people in the developed world, marketing professionals now bang their
heads together to reinvent and recreate goods in order to sell more stuff. Aware that most of our needs were met long
ago, they set about eternalizing childhood desires and fabricating new adult ones.
Barber records a moment when purchased bottled water in his London hotel.
Bottled water, in a country where clean water flows straight from the
tap, is perhaps the ultimate in manufactured need. "Over a billion people
are without drinking water," says Barber. "Why don't we find out ways
to get the water they need to them, instead of new ways of getting water to
All this makes Consumed sound like depressing reading. In many ways, it is, and the idea that Western
shoppers are to blame for environmental and cultural degradation, even if they have
been hoodwinked into buying unnecessary products, is a heavy cross to