Pope Francis: Is Consumerism Bad?

imagesPope Francis has denounced consumerism as a “poison” that threatens true happiness, and is an assault upon the poor. What does he say does bring true happiness? Faith in a nonexistent deity. The bit about the poor is equally fallacious.

I’m going to repeat here what turned out to be one of my most-visited blog posts ever, from December 2008, titled “Is Consumerism Bad?” —

Ellen Goodman, in her 12/15 column, is one of those rejoicing that materialist consumerism, at which they’ve always sneered, is falling victim to the recession, as people cut back spending. They applaud this as a simply wonderful retrenchment, a return to sanity and virtue.

But why are we in a recession? Because people are cutting back spending. None of the other factors would actually cause a recession if they weren’t causing spending cutbacks. When people buy less, businesses need to produce less, so they need fewer employees. So people lose their jobs; then they too will spend less; so then even more people lose their jobs. And Ellen Goodman thinks this is a good thing?

“Materialist consumerism” is people buying stuff that other people think they shouldn’t. But a free society has to mean people pursuing happiness by doing things–like spending their own money as they choose–that others disapprove. Some social critics just hate this. They’d prefer it if right-thinking moralists like them got to tell everyone else how to live.

Such people, like Goodman, do believe that an economy based on consumerism is somehow an offense against virtue. But what else, actually, could any economy be based on? The “economy” means you produce goods and services that I buy, and I produce stuff that you buy; which makes us both better off. That production of things people want is the source of all wealth and income, our entire standard of living. It doesn’t come from heaven, or “society,” or government. You may sneer at consumerism, but you don’t want consumers to stop buying what you yourself are employed to produce; you’d be out of a job. And if all consumerism stopped, we’d all be out of jobs.

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2 Responses to “Pope Francis: Is Consumerism Bad?”

  1. Lee Says:

    Maybe you and the pope are using “consumerism” differently. Much as one might advise one who is about to purchase cocaine that despite the short-term high, the long-term consequences can be quite severe, there are other circumstances where it can be appropriate to advise refraining from consumption. You and the pope may disagree as to which circumstances those are, but if you think the pope is against all consumption, I think you are misunderstanding him.

  2. rationaloptimist Says:

    Well, he talks as if he does. I assume he doesn’t mean consumption of food. But when you try to parse which material purchases are OK and which are not, you get into a morass. I myself might advise many people to refrain from purchasing many things, but the point is — to quote a certain Francis — “Who am I to judge?”

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