Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Consumer confidence

I'm mining an old notebook, so I hope I haven't written this before. I know that surveys of consumer confidence are important economic indicators, helping the sphere of production gauge its output and investors take a stab at guessing company profitability (in other words, they measure how confident industry can be in consumers, how pliable and cooperative they can expect them to be), but the wide reporting of the figure also has the effect of reinforcing that consumerist ideology that confidence is simply a matter of a eager shopping -- that the only way to express optimism is through shopping (just as it's the only way to express your identity or to vote your approval). One sees this reflected in American materialism, the pervasive sense that happiness requires owning a vast amount of things -- to be optimistic you have to keep on buying, and you need to keep all that stuff somewhere. Optimism and confidence become commonsense synonyms for the freedom to buy rather than the freedom to do, when in fact the freedom to buy becomes a compensation for the lack of a freedom to do -- we can't take a month off for vacation, but we can own a really big TV. We can't find work that fulfills us, but we can own a collection of really cool LPs and keep buying more.

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