Yesterday I made simplistic remarks about our capitalist economic system, especially the principle of supply and demand. Fortunately a reader, a professor of economics, gave me a gracious critique of my explanation. She wrote,
I’m not sure if it is society today or human nature which creates the demand for more. Hobbes contended people operate based on self interest while Locke didn’t believe this was always true. . . . The law of demand and supply are not causal models as much as they are descriptive models or this is simply what we observe in the world. It is true that suppliers only supply what people want but it isn’t true that they have unlimited powers to make this happen as the many failed products and services can attest.
My critique is not on capitalism per se. God made us with wants and desires that are not evil in themselves. I appreciate how the market allows us to enjoy an amazing amount of products: from Guatemalan mangos to Korean cell phones. I appreciate how the market can reward hard work.
My critique is on the pervasive nature of marketing and advertising. I am not against all advertising. My father worked as a newspaper advertising salesperson most of his life. I like to know when a new product can enhance my life or where I can find a favorite product at a cheaper price. What I struggle with is the constant barrage of messages that seem to tell me that my life story is incomplete or empty unless I have this product. Coca Cola has been doing this in its television commercials for years.
In the novel, The Gospel According to Larry, 17 year-old Josh Swenson starts a website that attacks the consumer waste that he sees. Josh decides to have only 75 possessions, counting all clothes, school supplies, recreational equipment, and software. He has an exact list of how many possessions he has. If he wants a new CD or book he has to sell an old one or trade for it. This means every purchase is a major decision and he takes it seriously. The novel helped me reflect on the wants and needs of my life.
You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy. Psalm 16:11
Do you think our culture overemphasizes consumption?
Lord Jesus, teach me to be a good steward of my material blessings.