Too Much Consumption? Let Me Decide.

This morning’s Marketplace commentary takes on the idea that we’re consuming tons of crap we don’t need.

Update: For those skeptical of the claim that people tend to be happier, healthier, better-educated and longer-lived in countries that consume the most, please see the UN Human Development Index. The top of the list is basically the group of wealthy, liberal, capitalist societies. The Nordic countries, please note, are extremely wealthy market societies with very high levels of consumption. Also note that an ethos of consumerism is different from the level of consumption, although there is no good evidence that consumerism is in any sense harmful. Look at gadget-obsessed Japan at #8 or the arch-capitalist U.S. at #12. And bear in mind that the difference among the top 20 are so small as to be nearly meaningless. Also, see Ruut Veenhoven’s overview of his recent work, which finds no decline in happiness in rich countries and a steady increase in years of life lived happily. There is also Angus Deaton’s recent paper [pdf], which finds the positive relationship between happiness and per capita income to be very robust. And there is also my paper on the policy implications of happiness research. For those especially worried about sustainable development, Ron Bailey’s article from a few days ago is a great briefer.

Update 2: Maybe a picture will help. The black line at the top represents the OECD countries — i.e., the countries where people consume the most:

OECD Central and eastern Europe, and the CIS Latin America and the Caribbean East Asia Arab States South Asia Sub-Saharan Africa

You will also notice that this is not a zero-sum game.