Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Consumer Economy on the Verge?

Is the "Consumer Society", where people need to work ever harder to buy ever-more stuff to keep the economy "growing" losing it's appeal around the world?

Lloyd Alter:

Shopping malls are in trouble all over North America, as retailers fail, shrink or flee to the cheaper freestanding box stores. Many are changing from shopping to entertainment and services. One expert is quoted in the Montreal Gazette: “People are spending more on experience and service and less on stuff. The world is awash in ‘stuff’.”

Shopping Malls Changing or Closing Because "The World Is Awash In Stuff"

Naomi Wolf:
NEW YORK – As turmoil stalks America’s financial markets and protests fill its streets, Americans’ lifestyle choices are evolving in a telling way: once seen by the rest of the world as an exuberant teenager – the globe’s extrovert, exporter of rock ’n’ roll and flashy Hollywood movies – Americans are now becoming decidedly withdrawn, or at least inward-looking. Trends in leisure activities reflect that change: frugality and making do are in; gaudy consumerism is out.

This change is due to the fragile economy, of course, but I believe that it is also psychological. After two wars and a half-dozen undeclared conflicts in the past decade, America has entered a period of unprecedented cultural hibernation.

Gardening, scrapbooking, knitting, and cooking have all become newly, shabbily chic. In the urban neighborhoods to which the young and hip are moving, city garden plots and heirloom tomatoes grown in window boxes have replaced Lexuses and Priuses.

Other young hipsters have moved farther out into the country in search of an idyllic new narrative fantasy. The young couple – he with a beard and she in a sundress and rubber boots – are homesteading in the Hudson River Valley with a flock of chickens, or in New Mexico in an ecofriendly straw-bale house. They have replaced the young couple of five years ago – he with the hedge fund, she with interior decorators – in a McMansion in Westchester County.

The food sections of urban newspapers that, five years ago, would have covered the latest fusion cuisine, now run dreamy profiles of the guy with the Ivy League degree who has stepped off the grid, and done fine for himself by starting a line of homemade pickles. Farmers’ markets, wood stoves, solar panels, and Agway farm-supply stores are the new focus of aspirational dreams for people who not long ago were high on boundless credit, consuming luxury brands scaled down for the middle class, and fantasizing about the kind of life on display in glossy magazines.
Naomi Wolf: The American Hangover (Project Syndicate)

Rick Bookstaber:
And one notable area of consumption that by definition differentiates the classes, that of conspicuous consumption, is going by the wayside. Yes, I believe we are seeing the twilight of the era of conspicuous consumption. Not that Gucci and Chanel are going to go out of business, but for most people that sort of status statement is increasingly becoming irrelevant. No matter what you are wearing and driving, a far better picture of you and your status is just a few clicks away. You don’t have to drive a Ferrari to let everyone know you are rich and successful. If you are driving a Ferrari, what it will convey is that you – who as everyone who cares to Google you knows is running a hedge fund and is worth tons of money – must like a Ferrari.
The Bifurcated Society (Credit Writedowns)
Japanese companies are worried that herbivorous boys aren't the status-conscious consumers their parents once were. They love to putter around the house. According to Media Shakers' research, they are more likely to want to spend time by themselves or with close friends, more likely to shop for things to decorate their homes, and more likely to buy little luxuries than big-ticket items. They prefer vacationing in Japan to venturing abroad. They're often close to their mothers and have female friends, but they're in no rush to get married themselves, according to Maki Fukasawa, the Japanese editor and columnist who coined the term in NB Online in 2006.

[...]But it was the bursting of Japan's bubble in the early 1990s, coupled with this shift in the social landscape, that made the old model of Japanese manhood unsustainable. Before the bubble collapsed, Japanese companies offered jobs for life. Salarymen who knew exactly where their next paycheck was coming from were more confident buying a Tiffany necklace or an expensive French dinner for their girlfriend. Now, nearly 40 percent of Japanese work in nonstaff positions with much less job security.

"When the economy was good, Japanese men had only one lifestyle choice: They joined a company after they graduated from college, got married, bought a car, and regularly replaced it with a new one," says Fukasawa. "Men today simply can't live that stereotypical 'happy' life."

Yoto Hosho, a 22-year-old college dropout who considers himself and most of his friends herbivores, believes the term describes a diverse group of men who have no desire to live up to traditional social expectations in their relationships with women, their jobs, or anything else. "We don't care at all what people think about how we live," he says.
The Heribvore's Dilemna: Japan panics about the rise of "grass-eating men," who shun sex, don't spend money, and like taking walks (Slate)


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