What is Consumer Capitalism?

Consumer capitalism has an impact on shoppers' habits.
Consumer capitalism has an impact on shoppers' habits.

Consumer capitalism refers to the manipulation of consumers to purchase a product based on their desire for it rather than an actual need for the good or service. Consumer capitalism takes place on a large scale level and involves a technique known as mass marketing. The beneficiaries of the consumer capitalism are the sellers. A book called “The Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith lays down the fundamental principles of consumer capitalism. Interestingly, according to one of the founders of public relations called Edward Bernays, consumer capitalism was necessary. He held that it was important for achieving structured democratic societies. More often, the people responsible for consumer manipulation are those of high status in communities.

Origins Of Consumer Capitalism

The concept of consumer capitalism started during the development of department stores in the US in the 1850s. According to an American writer called William Leach, there was an intentional and coordinated effort by the “captains of industry” at the time to shift consumers’ demand from being needs to wants. Human needs are often satisfied but wants can never be satisfied. Hence, the idea was for consumers to keep buying their products in order to fulfill their wants. Such consumer loyalty would result in continuous revenue for the sellers. In 1919, Bernays used his knowledge to manipulate public opinion about cigarettes and soap. Additionally, it was also around this time that the manipulative techniques and mass-marketing communication gained popularity. Besides these examples of consumer capitalism, the best example in history was orchestrated by the American government during the World War I. Desiring to receive financing for the ongoing world war, the state encouraged citizens to purchase food stuff not to satisfy their needs but to support their country. It was a show of solidarity and nationalism for their country.

Benefits Of Consumer Capitalism

The first benefit of consumer capitalism is increased economic growth particularly in developed countries such as America. Secondly, sellers enjoy increased revenue from their sales. Thirdly, consumer capitalism increases competition which leads to better quality and variety of products in the market. It also promotes division of labor which in turn encourages specialization in industries such as automotive manufacturing.

Criticism Of Consumer Capitalism

According to a French philosopher named Bernard Stiegler, the techniques used to manipulate the consumer behavior destroy psychic and collective individuation. Consequently, consumption leads to an addiction cycles rather than healthy enjoyment of the use of those products. As a result, the society has to deal with hyperconsumption. Another critique of consumer capitalism is that it delays the actual delivery of satisfaction and enjoyment. Consequently, there exists a widespread dissatisfaction making enjoyment an illusive endeavor.

Consumer Capitalism Today

In the United States, one of the techniques that the country has used to encourage consumer capitalism is the use of credit. Credit purchase has made it easy for the country to maintain high levels of expenditure in order to grow its economy. Besides, advertisements such as those targeting eco-friendly “green” products are also common today.


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