The Disease of Overconsumption

Who will free us from the tyranny of brand names? Who will restore the sanity of buying things only when we really need them?

A few days ago, a girl from Ashdod got home late. Her worried mother lay awake until 4 A.M., when her daughter returned. After the inevitable shouting and argument, the girl decided to run away from home. She took a large sum of money that was lying on the table and left. Her mother called the police and, with the aid of a cellular positioning device, they traced the daughter to Tel Aviv.

The girl reported that she had managed to go through NIS 17,000 in 24 hours! She took a private taxi from Ashdod to Tel Aviv for NIS 300, paid a hotel NIS 6,000 (for a few days in advance) and went to an expensive hairdresser, paying NIS 500 for "highlights." She then went to a shopping mall where she spent NIS 7,000 on a few shirts, pairs of shoes and jeans. The rest went on restaurants, taxis and other treats.

The girl, of course, had not heard of the "day without shopping" marked a few days ago in 30 countries in Europe, North America and Israel. From her point of view, shopping is the right way of life, the ultimate enjoyment. There are people trying to curb the mad passion for shopping that has taken over our lives, but even on the "day without shopping," Israelis continued their race to shop. It seems it is difficult to fight against the brainwashing we undergo. The consumer culture identifies happiness with buying a sweater, shirt or pair of shoes, because, after all, the lady in the store told us we look really good in that sweater.

There is one clear rule with regard to shopping: It's not important how many closets you have, you will always be one short. But if you make the mistake of buying the "missing" closet, it will soon fill up with stuff you don't really need, and once again you will need "just one more closet."

When I visited a Tel Aviv family recently, the father told me regretfully that once upon a time his daughters would go shopping on Allenby Street and come home bragging about the blouse they bought for NIS 30. But that was a long time ago, he said; now they go to the mall and look for brand names because, after all, it's not possible to go to school with any old sneakers. They have to be Nike.

There is also the obsessive need to tell everyone how much the handbag (a well-known brand) cost, and how much you paid for the shoes (at a famous store). Perhaps that is the main satisfaction of a shopping spree - to tell the guys how little important money is to you, even though you have a chronic overdraft at the bank.

Who will free us from the tyranny of brand names? Who will restore the sanity of buying things only when we really need them? Who will teach us to check quality instead of looking at the name of the brand? All this is because the embarrassing worship of brand names stems from insecurity and the inability to withstand social pressure; to be just like everybody else.

"The overconsumption disease" is turning even a trip abroad into a shopping spree - and it is not important whether the trip is to Paris or Tokyo. We have to buy, and that is more important than a visit to a museum or a walk in the park.

All of this is happening even though, if we stop to make the calculation, we find that an hour of shopping abroad - including the price of the airfare and hotel - makes every buy an absurd sum.

At this stage, readers will ask themselves how it is possible that I, as a devotee of the market economy, am attacking the culture of consumption that is part of the free market. Here I have to get help from a VIP, Winston Churchill, who when asked about democracy's failings, said democracy is a bad form of government but all other forms that have been tried are worse.

That is true also of the market economy. It is the best economic system among all the existing systems, but it also has failings. One of them is the "overconsumption disease". We must rid ourselves of it so we can regain our sanity.