Economists and social scientists who study the realm of consumer spending can tell us much about what consumers buy, where they buy it, when they buy, and how much they spend. They chart it, graph it, and measure it. However, the flood of numbers emanating from this research cannot reveal the why that ultimately drives consumer behavior. Yet, by understanding the why, practicing marketers can communicate with potential consumers to entice them to buy products using the emotionally based, right-brain-inspired language.
The overall message of so many books that explore modern American consumerism is to shake their fingers at our wasteful consumer behavior and call on consumers to stop their unnecessary, throwaway spending. Think if Americans directed their economic might toward the public good and infrastructure, rather than the extravagant weekly, even daily, shopping trips to the malls, armed with credit cards and insatiable consumer appetites. For example, Juliet Schor, of Harvard University, writes:
The intensification of competitive spending has affected more than family finances. There is also a boomerang effect on the public purse and collective consumption. As the pressures on private spending have escalated, support for public goods and for paying taxes has eroded. Education, social services, public safety, recreation, and culture are being squeezed. The deterioration of public goods then adds even more pressure to spend privately. People respond to inadequate public services by enrolling their children in private schools, buying security systems, and spending time at Discovery Zone rather than the local playground.
Yet, in light of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and the worsening economic crisis, this point of view seems strangely un-American. The simple fact remains that our whole economic system, even our way of life, depends upon the continued, sustained practice of "excessive," as some see it, American consumerism.