Where did our consumer culture come from? This is how the brilliant Seth Godin answers this questions:
A huge concern among capitalists at the turn of the last century was that as factories got better and better at making stuff, there wouldn’t be enough people to buy what they made. The problem wasn’t production; it was consumption. The typical household spent a tiny
fraction of what we do on everything in our budget.
In the 1890s, the typical teenager owned only a few items of clothing, consumed virtually no media, and owned no cosmetics. Only the truly rich had rooms and rooms of
belongings they rarely used. One of the wonderful by-products of universal education was the network effect that
supports consumer goods. Once one person in your class or your town had a car, others needed one. Once someone added more rooms or had a second or third pair of shoes, you needed them, too.
In the space of two generations, we created a consumer culture. There wasn’t one; then there was. Keeping up with the Joneses is not a genetic predisposition. It’s an invented need, and a recent one.
Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, 41-42
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