John Gerzema has a wonderful talk on TED about the “post-crisis consumer”:
His talk and article advance a rather optimistic view that the crisis has changed American attitudes, from being mindless consumers to mindful customers. For Gerzema, mindless consumption is what caused the crisis, and empowered post-crisis customers can get us on the right track again:
We are now returning to traditional values that dominated society and the marketplace in every period but 1990-2007. The Spend Shift is a return to sensibilities that define the American ideal of a balanced approach to household spending. Needs are prioritized, savings are emphasized and wants are satisfied only when the budget is balanced.
His talk includes some interesting results of the current crisis that exemplify this return to values of thriftiness and community: communities have become more important as support groups, volunteerism is up, people are looking for more durability in goods they buy (and are holding on to their cars longer then ever before), raising chickens in their back yards, the rise of local economies and local currencies, cooperatives that install solar panels on homes, etc… He also believes these demands from customers will encourage companies to be more socially responsible.
I certainly hope he is right when he writes that “Values like thrift, self-reliance and community are colliding with–and overwhelming–old lifestyles based on consumption, making America an emerging market of opportunity.” That sounds like a society we should try to create.
My concern is what this means for economic theory, which leaves no room for consumers to consider WHY they consume. Gerzema’s definition of the pre-crisis consumer sounds just like the economic agent of neoclassical models :
In the postcrisis age the term “consumer” is a demeaning stereotype of a mindless, gobbling beast of indifference–someone who ingests an endless abundance of goods and services without regard for consequence.
If only we could learn from the crisis to leave behind both our mindless consumption and the theory of that mindless consumption.