The Great Consumption Trap

The advertisers have made us crazy. They have succeeded in forging a link between shopping and gifts - and happiness. If you're a bit depressed, go shopping and come home happy.

It used to be, many years ago, that we would wait impatiently for the Passover holiday so we could receive a new item of clothing, which happened only once a year. Nowadays, Passover has become the big shopping holiday, the food holiday, the gifts holiday and the wasteful splurge holiday - and anyone who hasn't spent a good several hours at the shopping malls and hasn't filled the refrigerator with stupendous quantities of food has not observed Passover strictly as it should be.

The advertisers have made us crazy. They have succeeded in forging a link between shopping and gifts - and happiness. If you're a bit depressed, go shopping and come home happy. If by chance you're happy, then of course you need to celebrate in a splendid campaign of acquisitions. If you are a woman who has a "Mediterranean" figure (which is both beautiful and healthy), you'll be told that you would look even more beautiful if you were as slender as model Adi Neumann. Therefore you should buy the underwear she is advertising, and thus you will undergo a metamorphosis. And if you discover a few small wrinkles around your eyes, right at this very moment there is a special on extra-nourishing moisture cream, at a bargain price, that transforms every woman of 50 into a woman of 20 - and what's a mere NIS 400 for eternal youth and happiness?

The culture of consumption has brainwashed us. If the sales clerk in the shop says that the pants fit you absolutely perfectly and make you look young, you'll buy them immediately, and it makes no difference that the truth is that the pants are bursting on you in the wake of the over-the-top meals with which you stuffed yourself during the holiday. This, too, is part of the culture of consumption.

It used to be, many years ago, that we would not dare throw anything away. We related to food with respect. Today, anyone who doesn't throw out yesterday's food is a bit outdated, a miser or just a schnook.

It used to be that we bought only what we needed. Today, we worship brand names in an embarrassing way, so as to look "in." And there is also an obsessive need to tell everyone, as though incidentally, how much the fashionable brand-name bag cost, and how much we paid for the shoes from a famous shop, so our friends will know that we don't skimp and that money is no object - even though the overdraft at the bank is ballooning.

The consumption culture has transformed every visit to friends into a ridiculous display of gifts. You bring a gift and they gift you in return with something else, but in fact no one is interested in the one or the other. Thus our apartments have become warehouses, our kitchen cupboards are bursting with too many dishes and our closets are overflowing.

We know longer shop in order to live; we live in order to shop. The disease of over-consumption means that even trips abroad become one big shopping trip. The shopping becomes more important than a visit to a museum or a walk in a park.

The Americans have made shopping the state religion. They have even built an entire theory around it, to the effect that private consumption is what makes the wheels of the economy go round and therefore excess consumption is a positive phenomenon. In this way, too, they have stood economic theory on its head. For the truth is that excess personal consumption is like shooting heroin into a vein. It feels good in the short run, but eventually you will crash from the high. If you keep on consuming without restraint, one day it will end in disaster.

And this is exactly what caused the current world crisis. Tremendous excess consumption in the United States, which went on for many years and was funded by endless credit given by the banks, is what created three gigantic bubbles: the credit bubble, the real estate bubble and the stock market bubble - all of which burst in the middle of 2008 and dragged the world into a deep crisis.

The economic truth is different. In order to grow and develop, it is necessary not to consume in an excessive way, but rather to save more and increase investments. This is the only way an economy can grow in a stable way, and over time. It is also clear that excessive consumption damages environmental quality, because it leads to an excess of products and services; to increased use of fuel, electricity and water; to emissions of pollutants into the air; and to the creation of tremendous amounts of non-biodegradable packaging. Therefore, reducing consumption is the greatest contribution that can be made for the sake of the quality of the environment and the quality of life.

Perhaps we cannot come complaining to the manufacturers and advertisers trying to maximize their sales and their profits. But we can come complaining to ourselves, about how we have fallen, so very easily, into the jaws of the great consumption trap.