“Greed is good for producing powerful economic results!” So they used to proclaim, and indeed greed has succeeded spectacularly. In fact it has:
- launched the most energetic financial collapse since the Great Depression.
- greased America’s most massive ever transfer of wealth from the middle class to the top 1%.
- debased our culture of innovative self-sufficiency to one of addictive consumerism.
No wonder this breed of greed has attracted the lion’s share of Occupy Wall Street’s outrage. From Postconsumers’ perspective, it has wreaked its most lasting damage by means of neither the Great Recession nor the seismic shift in wealth, but through its cynical manipulation of the very basis of our culture. Just think about how, over the decades, we have gradually morphed from citizens to consumers and from ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ to obsessive aping of the rich and famous.
One by one, most core American values have withered. Whether it be family togetherness around the dinner table, Main-Street mom-and-pop businesses, reasonable job security, or tending such public commons as parks and libraries, our culture once moved in sync with natural community rhythms.
But no longer. ‘Community’ now orbits around globalized megamalls. Families fragment as downsizing ravages them, either with crushing workloads and debt or with layoffs and foreclosures. Pundits condemn any and all taxes for the public commons as ‘job-killers’- never mind that investment in schools, infrastructure and the environment create far more jobs than could ever be lost through a modest tax increase on the top 1%.
How did this outrage ever come about? What can we as individuals do about it? And how can Postconsumers (moving beyond addictive consumerism) support us in this effort?
In the 60’s and 70’s a very different cultural shift held sway. America’s wealth disparity (see image) had reached its historic low while average economic security stood at an all-time high. From the point of view of the top financial elite, this was bad enough. But far worse, the new egalitarianism had begun prompting a large-scale weakening of materialism in favor of idealism, leading to massive investment in social justice, environmental protection and the general public commons.
The elite’s counterstroke was an act of genius. Fearing permanent loss of power, they devised an entirely new breed of think tanks into which they poured unlimited billions of dollars. Their goal: nothing less than the complete remolding of our collective consciousness. For decades now their subliminal psychological massaging has commandeered the mass media. It has worked magnificently. While most core values faded, the sanctity of corporate profits has blazed like a beacon, leading to the most greed-friendly culture that money can buy.
But what has been imposed from above can be rejected from below. Day by day and one by one, average Americans are beginning to make gradual changes in their spending habits, releasing themselves from the indebtedness and stress that feed into the “vacuum-up” economics of the greed machine.
It’s easy and liberating. For suggestions both practical and profound, check out Postconsumers’ many other articles as well as our interactive handbook. Plus keep an eye out for future postings in this Occupy Consumerism series.