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What Are Some of the Contradictions of Consumerism? Essay

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Updated: Dec 23rd, 2021

Consumerism is defined as the policies developed seeking to protect and inform customers on continued buying of product, through honest packaging and branding. It emphasizes and encourages the progressive consumption of products by the consumers, beyond what the environment can sustain. Consumerism gives a reflection of the social stratification of individual and their position of influence on matters of political, social and economic.

Consumerism can be traced back during the industrial revolution where there was a massive production of products. This was an era characterized with outstanding availability of products at a relatively lower price. Meaning everybody was in a position to get what they wanted. These led to the invention of ways to encourage the consumers to use these products so that the manufacturers could continue to produce more. In economic, consumerism refers to the belief that the customers should dictate the economic structure of the society

The entry of consumerism in the market in 1960’s saw the shift and change in the shopping phenomenon. Later, the shopping lost its significance and became a class seeking movement. Consumerism formed a more polarized culture among the young and the elderly, the upper and the lower class as well as in the different sexual categories. This has led to disconnection between relatives, and also between the past and the future.

Conservatives who were the major critics of the consumerism theory came to save the free spending Americans. The conservatives were trying to find the balance between the freedom and discipline. This was aimed at restraining the over consumption by families. The conservatives introduced stringent measures to the market to reduce the over flow consumption. This however just fueled the same polices they were opposed to, because they unleashed the market by cutting down the taxes, increasing the spending in defense and deregulating the regulator. The result of this new policy was still an emergence of group comprised of very affluent and extreme poor society.

It did not address the problems which arouse as a result of consumerism theory. Eventually the once again, the American were to be introduced to a policy of individualism (Abuvia, 2005.p.90). This was later substituted for inexpensive housing. The free market conservatism pushed this new consumerism into a more selfish hand less social –bounded process.

The contradictions of consumerism have been evident, with the capitalist campaigning for consumerism policies while the libertarians are opposed to it. Madeline Levine, an American, regarded the transformation within the American way of life as, “a shift away from the values of community and integrity and towards competition, materialism and disconnection”. Besides, since the marketers target selling their products to the affluent people within the society, a relationship between what the people procure with their status has developed. This has led to impulse buying of commodity which society does not require but which are reflections of their superiority. Individuals at the lower stratification ladder are always trying to emulate those upper the ladder in order to fit in the society.

This pushes the middle class people in pursuing the celebrity life and hence increasing on their budgets to buy luxuries which do not necessarily add to their economic welfare but to a social status. Consumerism enticed People in acquiring commodities like goods and services as the utmost core or the way to happiness. This ideology is in contrary with the theory of ecologism which emphasize on the importance of preserving ecology.

The main contradiction of consumerism consists offering you both solidarity and the power against the other. The political factor says that saying what or how the commodity is, heavily outweighs the goal of getting you to spend your money on it in a contradictory but mystified fantasy of solidarity and power. The consumerism though perceived to be the real reflector of the true status of individual, there have been a myth that state that the (your status is reflected on what you buy). The long term effect of trying to satisfy this urge is massive destruction of the ecology. These have its effect felt even by the next generation. In order the consumerism survive from its irresolvable contradiction it deploys marketing tactics like advertising and branding its products.

Consumption proffers an endless series of reconciliation fantasies for the contradictions within consumerism. This deters people from turning to the ecologism. Advertising has a sole intention of holding the attention and of course over emphasizes on the quality and importance of the product in question. The adverts create sensory perception and seize attention and motivate one in acquiring the commodity. Since the adverts are placed at all avenue and mediums which are easily accessed by the customers, it becomes easier to tame the customers in developing the urge to buy the product even when they do not require them. It should be noted that with consumerism, their product are always advertised differently giving the ignorant customers a picture of new products, but it’s the same old products.

In order to generate new customers, consumerism brainwashes the memory of the culture to customize and match their intention. Precisely looking at the critics of the consumerism theory their argument is purely based on ecological rather than the economic sector of the countries economy. Although the policies of consumerism are determined by the demand forces, care should be taken to reduce the degradation of environment.

It is unrealistic not to find a balance between the amount generated and the amount consumed. The progressive production shows a positive index in the growth of economy, a mechanism should be established to regulate the production of commodities. Where the raw material used in the production of commodity is particularly non-renewable, the responsible ministry should discourage. As stated by Jorge Majfud, “Trying to reduce environmental pollution without reducing consumerism is like combating drug trafficking without reducing the drug addiction.” The effects of consumerism are ruthlessly felt, while fighting it is far more expensive (Luigino, 2007 p. 90).

The policies of consumerism are somehow exploitative, taking sides with the elite group and forgetting the interest of majority unfortunate who cannot be able to raise enough money to fight for social status with the rich. This in the long run leads to a segmented society with levels or castes based on those who have and those who don’t have. This inequity may result in hatred among the society. The outcries of the libertarian are inclusive as they are concerned of the welfare of all citizens.

They discourage what is truly a forceful and exploitative marketing, where the main idea and intention is to make sales from the unsuspecting customers, or from customers who are willing to spend on the expense of social status. If such economic atrocities are continually left unchecked over longer period of time, it would open up a wide gap between the rich and the poor. Since the resources are naturally and non discriminative those who cannot afford the luxuries should also be engaged by afforded the most basic things they require like food, shelter, clothing and medical care.( Brewer, 1993, p.400)

Neglecting or singling out a particular group on the ground of poverty has a detrimental psychological effect as the less fortunate feel like outcast and cannot contribute to national economy effectively. Implementation or collaboration of capitalism and socialism can help in amending and creating a neutral ground to help and accommodate the two diverse groups. The capitalist on the other hand supports prioritizing the needs for the customer rather than adopting the policies of inclusiveness. During the nineteenth century the consumerism was taking a momentum due to the industrial revolution and capitalist development which was taking place by then.

Capitalist had taken extensive research on ways of satisfying the customers and their effort was coming to fruitation. Henry Ford among other influential people within the industry, were perfectly aware of the fact that the level of production is determined by level of consumption. This is because it would give consumers a choice of variety to choose from and also reduce the price and improve quality.

Frederick Taylor is another scholar who contributed massively to the success of consumerism, when he came up with the theory of scientific management, marking the inception of implausible production and reduced costs of production on the assembly lines.

The industrial revolution created a phenomenal economic upsurge, with products being available in outstanding orders and relatively cheaper prices. This was historic as this had never been experienced before. These ensured every individual virtually had the products available to them. The coming in into limelight of the capitalism and the theory of consumerism was unprecedented (Leiss, 1988, p. 53).

They had exceptional understanding of marketing and they were ready to create the market for the products they were massively producing. This is well elaborated by Earnest Calkins who noted that, “consumer engineering must see to it that we use up the kind of goods we now merely use”. In addition, Christine Frederick, a scholar and theorist observed that, “the way to break vicious deadlock of low standard of living is to spend freely, and even waste creatively”.

The way the capitalists applied the tradition marketing mix particularly on the promotion was fantastic. The consumerism adopted the techniques of advertising using the media on the availability of the products they were selling. This was also added a zing by being branded to give it an exceptional look. The capitalist invested heavily on customer satisfaction and this led to the theory of consumerism becoming an instant hit and very popular among the lower, upper and elite groups. It also raised the level of living as everyone in each level worked hard to emulate the others in the upper level. Those in the lower caste wanted to own things owned by the middle class, while the middle class were looking forward to the elite class. The celebrities at the upper most level had the honor of endorsing the product (Wolfreys, 2006.p. 80)

The transformation from a small scale to a large scale production revolution, the capitalist and the theory of consumerism has proved practical. The most technical and failure by most business is failure to develop sound marketing policies. Although the buying trend in the consumerism theory does not reflect the true urgency of the product, it is essential as it helps in the growth of economy. It is baseless to criticize such theory which continues to fetch profit while the socialist though opposed to the theory have not adopted a workable theory (Kambara, 2005, p. 48). The growth of the economy under consumerism is measured by the units of products sold.

Moreover, the capitalist development and the industrial revolution have incorporated a large number of employees who continues to add to the growth of the economy. The theory has much positive that negatives as it has also facilitated growth of skilled and professional marketers. The contradictions of the consumerism and the socialism emanate from the fear of consumerism taking control and using the power to exploit the socialist. However, although the fear of Consumerism is valid the theory itself is practical and it has helped many. Besides, it has created social stratification which provokes competition and efficiency.


The theory of consumerism is by contrary a better theory compared to the socialism approach of economy and although its abuse can result in massive human abuse, it adoption has seen to accelerate the growth of economy. The socialist should give room consumerism although government should also install checks to curb any excessiveness. The two theories suggested namely consumerism and its main challenger conservatism, each has its short coming. Although the consumerism had managed to build a strong market for their products, this was as exploitative as only a specific group could afford that. The conservatives though were opposed to the theory of over consumption and they were unable to draw good policies but instead they came up with other different policies from consumerism but equally exploitative.

Reference List

Abuvia, C. A.,& Adelman, B. M., 2005, Market metaphors for meeting mates: Working papers. University of Michigan (E-book). Web.

Brewer, J., & Porter, R., 1993, Consumption and the World of Goods. London: (E- book). Web.

Luigino, B.,.2007. Handbook on the economics of happiness: Business & Economics/ Economics / General. (E-book). Web.

Kambara, T., 2007, China and the global energy crisis: development and prospects for China’s oil and naturalgas. EdwardElgarPublishing.E (E-book). Web.

Leiss, W., 1988, the Limits to Satisfaction: An Essay on the Problem of Needs and Commodities. Business & Economics / Consumer Behavior. McGill- Queen’s Press. (E-book). Web.

Wolfreys, J., 2006, Modern North American criticism and theory: a critical guide EdinburghUniversityPress, (E-book). Web.

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