The Dismal Science

Today in my advertising class, we had a discussion on consumerism and economics, known as “the dismal science”.

Consumerism is an ideology that encourages people to continuously buy goods, implies that buying goods will improve your life, and equates the amount of goods we have to our personal success. It’s a disturbing thought, but it’s a common experience in North American culture.

Within consumerism is the concept of “compulsory consumption”, which refers to buying items you think you need, but actually don’t. A city dweller buys a car because he thinks he needs one, when he lives within quick access of public transportation. Now he needs to make many other purchases because of the car: tires, oil changes, repairs, and insurance.

When we break our “needs” down into the absolute basic elements, the list is short: shelter, food, weather-appropriate garments…

The list doesn’t include the latest iPhone, bigger and bigger televisions, or (the best example from class today) a jetski. You don’t need any of these things, but oftentimes we get it in our heads that we do.

Always remember, the economy wins when we lose. Divorce? Buy a new house and all the stuff to fill it! Sick? Buy cold and flu medicine! Death in the family? Buy a $25,000 casket!


Before you make your next purchase, ask yourself whether you’re buying it because you need it, or because owning it will make you feel more successful or better about yourself. There are many ways to make yourself more successful or happy, and none of them should require a jetski.

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