?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Consumerism and libertarianism - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Consumerism and libertarianism [Oct. 26th, 2006|01:36 am]
Arvind Narayanan
[Tags|]

I see consumerism as beneficial to both society and the economy. (In fact I think exuberant consumerism/conspicuous consumption offers a neat solution to the problem of copyright enforcement. I wonder if this argument has made before.) Anyway, I've never understood anti-consumerism, and frequently argue against it. Most recently I had a discussion with medryn in defense of artificial diamond scarcity.

[Not De Beers, mind you, just artificial diamond scarcity. I believe that consumerism in jewelry is a natural social need, having deep roots in our evolutionary history (like all human social behavior :-), and not created by artificial De Beers advertising pressure as most intellectuals believe. De Beers advertising arose to fill an already existing need, and if it hadn't been them it would have been somebody else. There are close parallels of the same phenomenon not involving De Beers. The means by which they achieved and maintain the scarcity are questionable, but that's not the object of discussion.]

Today I found out that most of the opposition to anti-consumerism comes from libertarian thought. Surprisingly unsurprising and comfortingly reassuring.
LinkReply

Comments:
From: (Anonymous)
2006-10-26 09:42 am (UTC)

Assuming this isn't a joke....

I suppose that once one ignores ecological impact, limitations of natural resources, pollution effects, infrastructure requirements for delivery and waste, it could be argued that unbridled consumption is a good thing. On the other hand, the same "in a vacuum, this is a good thing" style of arguments were made for communism, but no well-informed person takes those seriously either.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: arvindn
2006-10-26 09:49 am (UTC)

Re: Assuming this isn't a joke....

Nope, this is not a joke at all.

Most libertarian arguments sound like a joke to a lot of people. It's ok; the welfare state sounds like a joke to me, so we're even.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2006-10-26 10:01 am (UTC)

Re: Assuming this isn't a joke....

You are aware that consumerism vs. the welfare state is a false dichotomy, right? You seem to be assuming that a) all dissatisfaction with unbridled consumption stems from welfare-state thinking b) everyone who believes that unbridled consumption is not a great idea also thinks it requires government regulation and intervention. If so, you are incorrect.

It is perfectly reasonable to allow each person to make their own lifestyle choices. It is also perfectly reasonable for people to express opinions about other people's lifestyle choices with the hope that they can be modified - but you know that, otherwise you wouldn't be a vocal libertarian.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: arvindn
2006-10-26 10:09 am (UTC)

Re: Assuming this isn't a joke....

That's not what I meant. My mention of the welfare state was purely an tone-for-tone example of a concept that many non-libertarians subscribe to but I personally find abhorrent. No dichotomy with consumerism whatsoever was implied.

Anyway, yeah, obviously you're free to have your opinion; I wasn't even debating the merits of consumerism. Merely trying to make the point that my original post was not a joke, and trying to have a sense of humor about it.

(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2006-10-26 10:16 am (UTC)

Re: Assuming this isn't a joke....

Fair enough. I am interested, though, in the bedrock assumptions of your argument for conspicuous consumption. Do you believe that the factors I mentioned (ecology, pollution, infrastructure etc) are secondary?

Also (on a different topic), I am intrigued by your assertion that unbridled consumption is a method to limit copyright. Care to elaborate?

In hindsight, I'm sorry if I came across as combative in my first reply - that was born of surprise rather than any malicious intent.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: arvindn
2006-10-26 10:33 am (UTC)

Re: Assuming this isn't a joke....

"Do you believe that the factors I mentioned (ecology, pollution, infrastructure etc) are secondary?"

I can't give a simple yes or no answer to this. I could launch into a detailed explanation, but I would really rather not. Nothing personal -- if we met face to face, I would be happy to do this.

"Also (on a different topic), I am intrigued by your assertion that unbridled consumption is a method to limit copyright. Care to elaborate?"

Again I don't want to give a full explanation, but just an example from personal experience: the only movies that I have bought were bought after I had already watched them (legally, via netflix/blockbuster). The point of buying them is to make a statement. The same applies, although to a lesser extent, to my book purchasing. If I invite a friend or a potential mate home, my bookshelf enables them to get a quick peek at who I am, and thus serves a valuable social purpose. Lending/borrowing books and movies is another excuse for social interaction. (It feels weird to try to express the implicit rationale behind one's own social behavior.)

My thesis is that in the more affluent economies of the world, especially if they were to be tad more consumerist than they already are, there quite probably exists a large enough market of purchasing for the sake of purchasing that content distributors wouldn't need to try to prevent unauthorized distribution.

There. That's already longer than I intended it to be. I hope it made some sense.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2006-10-28 01:10 pm (UTC)

Re: Assuming this isn't a joke....

I can't give a simple yes or no answer to this. I could launch into a detailed explanation, but I would really rather not. Nothing personal.

No offence taken, it's your blog and your time. Though I am surprised (yet again!) at bold assertions - Anyway, I've never understood anti-consumerism, and frequently argue against it - without any supporting arguments. I am assuming that is not deliberate.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)