The consumption spiral

Like water circling the bathtub drain, our consumer society expends a lot of energy but ultimately spirals down a bottomless hole, and unless more water is continuously added, nothing but an empty tub remains.

Of late, the “water” being added is money printed by the Federal Reserve Bank, in the form of bond purchases and zero interest rates. Added to this has been federal government stimulus spending, but the sum total of these efforts remains a sputtering faucet and the tub’s still draining, not filling up.

Western economics, what I would call the economics of consumption, has spread across the globe, hastened by policies developed by the U.S. dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and now using state capitalism, China has joined in. Such global institutions force the consumer society ideals of expanded credit and lend money to weak countries by tying loans to “opening up” economies. In layman’s terms, “opening up” means making weakened markets available to multinational corporations and banks for economic exploitation. A form of financial colonialism, the client countries end up captive economies of wealthier countries, dependent upon them for “water” to keep their financial tubs full. Polite words like “development” have been substituted for “exploitation” in an attempt to disguise the raw face of such financial colonialism.

In our American economy, it’s the average citizen that has been turned into a colonial subject. The increasingly complex web of financial and systemic instrumentality that comprise modern life has rendered the notion of self-sufficiency a quaint notion of the past. Society has always required interdependence; farmers grew food and city dwellers bought it, for example. But today’s economy is bound to a consumption machine, and not a hair’s breadth separates them in most lives.

Your wallet, for instance. You might think those credit cards and driver’s license are handy tools, but they are an instrument of colonial control. Your purchases and your movements are tracked and correlated with other data; your car’s license plate, the things you buy, the bills you pay, the shows you watch – everything about you and what you do is scrutinized in the bowels of vast data-mining computer centers owned by the corporate colonial powers. Your privacy is just an illusion.

Meanwhile, the colonial consumer society is systematically destroying the planet. The water rushing down the drain is greater than that which can be added. You may ask, “where does the water go once it goes down the drain?” The answer is into the tubs of billionaires and billionaire corporations. The basis of the colonial consumer society means your tub drains to holding tanks, from which its “water” is loaned to other colonial subjects at a profit. In this way, the wealth of many is drained to increase the wealth of the few. The British used such colonial economics for 400 years, to become for a while the world’s only superpower and the wealthiest nation on earth. Eventually, their colonial subjects gained independence, but have progressively been turned into client states remaining firmly under western domination and control. Those who resist are deemed “rogue” and subjected to subversion, sabotage, and economic starvation until they comply.

Ours is not what we would call an “enlightened” society, but it could be. That transformation will require an honest recognition of how profoundly damaging colonial consumer society is, and discarding it. It’s either that, or the trash heap of history.