Love’s Labors and Costs

From Seed Magazine:

Spent_INLINEWhy do some people pay a 100,000 percent premium for a Rolex when a Timex is such a sleek and efficient timepiece? Why do others kill themselves at work just so they can get there in a Lexus? Why do we pay 1,000 times more for designer bottles of water when the stuff that gushes from our taps is safer (because it’s more regulated), often tastier, and better for the planet? And how do we convince ourselves that more stuff equals more happiness, when all the research shows that it doesn’t? In Spent, University of New Mexico evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller contends that marketing—the jet fuel of unrestrained consumerism—“is the most dominant force in human culture,” and thus the most powerful shaper of life on Earth. Using vivid, evocative language, Miller suggests that consumerism is the sea of modern life and we are the plankton—helplessly tumbled and swirled by forces we can feel but not understand. Miller aims to penetrate to the evolutionary wellsprings of consumerist mania, and to show how it is possible to live lives that are more sustainable, more sane, and more satisfying.

…Critically, Miller’s point is that the human urge to put on a show is biologically inevitable—consumerist culture is not. By changing the way we display, we can reduce the high individual, societal, and planetary costs of rampant consumerism. Miller offers suggestions for modifying social norms to stigmatize crass consumerism, along with sensible, though unoriginal, advice about resisting the consumerist urge (“just don’t get it”). More boldly, he proposes tax reform that would inhibit, rather than promote, the impulse to consume—rendering unto Caesar as money leaves the wallet (a consumption tax) rather than as money enters the wallet (the current system of income taxation).

More here.