Juliet Schor once made a claim about leisure time that was so stupid that it disqualifies near everything she has to say on anything. Including, of course, her use of the word and or even or.
That mistake was to claim that medieval peasants had much more free time than modern day peoples because the medievals had 70 – count ’em, 70! – holydays. And a holy day is the same as a holiday.
Think through this for a moment. The medievals were animal owning peasants. An animal owning peasant who takes 70 days off a year taking care of the animals rapidly becomes a non-animal owning peasant and, in the course of time, a dead or ex-peasant.
So, here’s the new claim, again making an economic mistake:
Scholars have different answers to this question. Economists just assume that goods and services provide well-being, and people want to maximize their well-being. Psychologists root it in universal dimensions of human nature, which some of them tie back to evolutionary dynamics. I don’t think either of those are particularly convincing.
The key impetus for contemporary consumer society has been the growth of inequality, the existence of unequal social structures, and the role that consumption came to play in establishing people’s position in that unequal hierarchy. For many people, it’s about consuming to their social position, and trying to keep up with their social position.
Economists don’t make that assumption. Their assumption is in fact entirely the other way around. The insistence is that consumers – peeps in general – attempt to maximise their utility. Thus, if they go out and buy something then that something must, in the minds of those specific consumers, increase their utility. This is also true of everything that consumers do not go out and buy or otherwise expend effort to acquire. They didn’t go get it because not getting it increases their utility more than getting it.
The economists are, as far as their model goes – and not as Schor details it – correct in this. Because of the way they define it.
The psychologists are also right as far as they take their observation. The standard competitor to a man is all other men. They’re competing for status and thus access to uteri – in the end that is, it being sex with fertile women which is the expression. Women are in competition with all the other women for access to those males who are worth having a uterus filled by – that being defined by the status of the men which is why men compete for it.
Schor is therefore wrong, twice over, before she even presents her own option. Which we can also show is wrong.
Scholars differ on how to date consumerism.
What happens in the 1950s is the model gets picked up again,
OK. But the US was more equal from the 50s to the 80s than it has been since. But consumerism is called hyper- only more recently. So, that excessive consumerism doesn’t in fact map over inequality – they don;t even have a correlation let alone causality.
Further, she doesn’t even understand the implications of her own theory:
Increases in inequality trigger what I’ve called “competitive consumption,” [the idea that we spend because we’re comparing ourselves with our peers and what they’re spending]. It can be hard to keep up, particularly if standards are escalating rapidly, as we’ve seen.
But that’s the psychologists argument that you’ve already rejected.
Then there’s willful blindness – or perhaps it’s just ghastly technical inability:
It’s fascinating, though, because I did some work trying to estimate models of differences between men and women and various kinds of consumption, and I never found any gender differences.
Probably better to just put this back on the shelf. As we should have done with her “work” on leisure.