People in consumerist societies live by the influence of advertisements, and often methodically buy things they do not need, and in most cases, cannot afford. This, in turn, leads to greater economic disparity, and despite having the most or latest products, consumerists have a feeling of unfulfillment due to spending a lot of money yet having nothing of personal importance.Even as I agree that capitalism has some problems, I do not agree that consumerism is one of those problems. Furthermore, consumerism mitigates economic inequality, rather than exacerbating it.
My problems with capitalism are summarized as follows:
1. Whenever returns on capital exceed economic growth (which is the typical state of the economy), capitalism leads to increasing economic inequality. That's the thesis of Capital in the 21st Century, one of the most important books of our time.My understanding is that "economic growth" is a measure of the rate of increase of consumption. So if people consume more, that will lead to less inequality. This is easy to understand if you consider the alternative to consumption: investment. Investing money produces returns, and the people with the most wealth are the people who get the most returns.
2. As I've previously observed, even an ideal free market only optimizes for the sum utility as measured in dollars. In the presence of economic inequality, this skews the market against poor people, who have a lower dollar-to-utility conversion factor.
It is true that I've previously expressed a desire to consume less. However, that's partly a matter of personal taste, and it's partly a matter of labor politics. I advocate reducing the 40 hour work week because I would rather consume my leisure time than have an increased ability to buy status goods. In other words, I'm just favoring one kind of consumption over another. Or put another way, I advocate that leisure time is allocated more sensibly, with unemployed people having less leisure (ie by being employed), and employed people having more leisure.
I think people who complain about consumerism might be trying to express a similar sentiment about not buying status goods. But ultimately I feel they've botched the point with a poor understanding.
The consumption of goods is one of the most fundamental of goods in society. If it happens to be true that capitalism leads to increased consumption, that would be one particular point in capitalism's favor.
I just wrote this as a personal reaction to things I heard "on the street". However a brief google search revealed that many people have said things that are very similar. I will look into these and post a follow-up if I find anything interesting.