There’s already been a bit of blogospheric response to the latest study on wasteful consumption (PDF) by Clive Hamilton and others at the Australia Institute . As Andrew Norton notes in the comments to Jason Soon’s post, the study reflects Clive’s rather ascetic wordview, one not shared by the majority of Australians. And, no doubt, waste is in the eye of the beholder. To take one of Clive’s examples, I must admit to buying books and not reading them, at least some of the time, but I can find excuses for this, whereas I’m scandalised by the idea of throwing out perfectly good clothes because they’re out of fashion.
That said, I think that, unless you are willing to take a completely agnostic view of social trends of all kinds, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the present period is one of generally excessive consumption. There are underlying economic causes of this, including low interest rates, easy credit and an economy that rewards successful speculation more than effort. This in turn produces a demand for cultural celebration of consumption which reinforces the whole process. The wheel must turn and I think Clive is right to give it a bit of a shove.
And, leaving aside the fact that an excessive focus on consumption is bad for us, Tim Costello was spot-on on TV pointing to the moral obscenity of allowing children to starve while we making strenuous efforts to acquire trivial items for ourselves. No-one is perfect here, but, as I’ve said before, we all seemed a lot happier when we were putting a bit of our spare time into the tsunami aid effort. If we could keep this up, the world would be a much better place.
Such things are cyclical: material prosperity was just as eagerly celebrated in the 1950s, and this produced the anti-materialist reaction of the 1960s.
fn1. And even where wealth is produced by effort, it commonly takes the form of a capital gain, on the sale of a business, a renovated home, or whatever.