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Date: 2024-06-24 Page is: DBtxt001.php L0700-SS-CONSUMPTION


More Consumption Bigger Existential Risks

Buying Stuff


Food / Meat

More Pollution

Extreme Weather

More Floods

Inpage Navigation
More consumption gives a better quality of life! GO InPage 'A'
More consumption results in GDP growth GO InPage 'B'
More consumption enables more profit and financial wealth GO InPage 'C'
More consumption accelerates environmental degradation GO InPage 'D'

A More consumption gives better quality of life! GO TOP
The answer is YES and NO

When there is shortage of essential products ... that is goods and services ... more consumption means that the shortages are being alleviated and quality of life is improving.
TPB Note: I am old enough to remember the shortages in the UK during the Second World War and for a long time afterwards. Rationing was a way of life lasting into the early 50s.The shorrtages in Continental Europe were considerably worse than in the UK during the war, but probably eased faster after the war, courtesy of initiatives like the Marshall Plan.
In more recent times, shortage has given way to abundance in the world's rich countries, and the relationship between more consumption and better quality of life has changed. More consumption has more and more people eating too much and becoming overweight and obese. Health issues like diabetes are more prevalent with abundance thn with shortage.
But there is a point where more does not do very much to improve quality of life. Not enough good food is a problem, but so is the excessive consumption of good food that results in obesity and health issues like diabetes. When a person is short of food, health, shelter, education, clothing, etc., having more of these things adds to quality of life, but when a person has enough of these things, then having more does not add very much, if anything, to quality of life.

B More consumption results in GDP growth GO TOP
This is true

But GDP is a dangerous measure ... its limitations were recognized by prominent economists like Kuznets who had a big role in developing the measure and political leaders like Robert Kennedy who described all its weaknesses in a famous speach in 1968.

It seems to remain in use for two big reasons:
  1. The first is that the corporate world finds it a lot easier to generate profits when the economy is growing than in other conditions. Making GDP growth a goal of economic policy makes corporate management a whole lot easier.
    TPB Note: I had a series of corporate financial positions in the late 60s and through the 70s. The GoGo years of the 1960s made profit growth easy, while the post GoGo stagnation of the 1970s were a whole lot harder.
  2. The second is that there is a lot of intertia in modern governance.
    TPB Note: I participated in a conference workshop some years ago (maybe in the late 1990s) where several people who worked for the National Bureau of Statistics explained the steps that would be needed in order to change the way GDP gets calculated ... and the virtual impossibility of getting consensus about actually changing to something else, no matter how much better!
More on the Robert Kennedy speach Open L0600P-Robert-Kennedy

C More consumption delivers more profit GO TOP
True ... more consumption means more sales, more profits and more wealth
The problem is that more consumption means more production ... and production is a big problem for sustainability.

The phrase 'Its money that makes the world go round' might be better expressed with reference to profits. For a very long time, corporate decisions have been made almost exclusively in order to make more profit with a view to maximising stockholder value. Because maximising profit has been of such importance, business strategy has concentrated on doing whatever it takes to make more profit. The easiest way to make more profit is to have more sales, which happens when there is more consumption.

Advertising is one of the ways the corporate world invests to encourage more consumption. While the advertising talks about how much better the customer will feel, the underlying purpose is simply to get people to buy more stuff.

D ... but more environmental degradation GO TOP
True ... and a very serious issue

The United States (and Canada) have extremely high standards of living and high levels of consumption. These countries are also the largest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases and have been responsible for all sorts of other environmental pollution.

Consumption requires production and a complete supply chain prior to final sale. Almost every element of natural capital is depleted or degraded by the supply chain required to support consumption.

In the main, the supply chain is driven by mainly by price without much consideration of the impacts within the supply chain of impact on people (mainly the workforce) and on the environment. Until very recently everything to do with 'externalities' ... that is impact on people and the environment ... has been ignored. Increasingly consumers are taking these matters into consideration, but reliable information about corporate behavior through the wholc of the supply chain remains very weak.

More and more, 'stories' are surfacing about the behavior of companies known to be suppliers of 'brand' goods being sold in rich countries ... but comprehensive information remains elusive. This is one of the challenges to be addressed by TVM and a wide range of activists and well-meaning collaborators.

Consumer effects ... (source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation).
There is ever-increasing demand for resources: In the past 100 years the global population has quadrupled.

In the twentieth century prosperity – GDP – increased by a factor of 25 and the demand for construction materials by a factor of 34.

The annual global demand for energy doubled in the last 40 years and is expected to grow an additional 50% in the coming 20 years.

Such increased demand in the face of limited supply has put a strain on resource prices and increased their volatility.

This leads to increased uncertainty about costs and prices, in the end reducing economic stability.

What is going to be the impact on society and the environment when India and China have the same level of consumption and standard of living that has become the norm in Europe and North America? The modern world is on track to become totally unsustainable.

The text being discussed is available at
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