The Roots of Progress

Why consumerism is good actually

“Consumerism” came up in my recent interview with Elle Griffin of The Post. Here’s what I had to say (off the cuff):

I have to admit, I’ve never 100% understood what “consumerism” is, or what it’s supposed to be. I have the general sense of what people are gesturing at, but it feels like a fake term to me. We’ve always been consumers, every living organism is a consumer. Humans, just like all animals, have always been consumers. It’s just that, the way it used to be, we didn’t consume very much. Now we’re more productive, we produce more, we consume more, we’re just doing the same thing, only more and better….

The term consumerism gets used as if consumption is something bad. I can understand that, people can get too caught up in things in consumption that doesn’t really matter. But I feel like that’s such a tiny portion. If you want to tell the story of the last 100, 200 years, people getting wrapped up in consumption that doesn’t really matter is such a tiny fraction of the story…. Compared to all of the consumption that really does matter and made people’s lives so much better. I’m hesitant to even acknowledge or use the term. I’m a little skeptical of any use of the concept of consumerism….

Any consumption that actually buys us something that we care about, even convenience, or saving small amounts of time, is not a waste. It’s used to generate value that is not wasted. It is spent on making our lives better. Are some of those things frivolous? Certainly, but what’s the matter with frivolous uses? Tiny conveniences add up. They accumulate over time to be something that is actually really substantial. When you accumulate little 1% and 0.5% improvements and time savings, before you know it you’ve you’ve saved half of your time. You’ve doubled the amount of resources that you now have as an individual to go for the things that you really want and care about.

Can you steelman “consumerism” for me?

Comment: Progress Forum, LessWrong, Reddit

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