Consumerism vs. Materialism


Andrew Chamberlain notes an interesting paper [PDF] which appears to show that we become happier as we shift our consumption from goods (manufacturing) to experiences (services). Andrew summarizes:

1. Experiences are more open to positive reinterpretation later than goods?we tend to be nostalgic for even our worst vacations, for example;

2. Experiences are more central to our identities?life is literally the sum of past experiences, not past purchases; and

3. Experiences have greater ?social value.? Sharing them helps us form more satisfying relationships that lead to happiness?think of the difference between a bar-room story about your European backpacking adventure vs. your new Sony flat-screen.

Keep that in mind next time you hear complaints that our shift toward services represents a ?hollowing out? of the U.S. economy.

NEXT: Bad Tactics, Bad Strategy

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  1. I am confused. Isn’t service an economic “good”? Someone quote von mises, dammit! Also, this seems to be dodging the issue that most people’s experiances are dependant on material wealth (food, shelter, clothing, transportation).

  2. Perhaps the bar-room story is satisfying to the teller, but I shudder at the thought of being the beneficiary of the “new economy” in this way. Is paying backpackers to _not_ tell me their stories considered purchasing a “service?”


  3. Well, that’s just a semantic thing, but it’s a pretty universal convention to distinguish between “goods and services” even if someone might reasonably refer to a service as a kind of “good”. And I don’t think it’s “dodging” the issue; they’re talking about consumption shifts at the margin, not at the most basic level,

  4. I just had the “experience” of thinking about a nice, juicy steak. Tonight I will “experience” the “consumption” of it. Distinction without a difference?

  5. Well, Dink, David Hume had some specific thoughts on that matter.

    Oh, nevermind …

  6. “Don’t count your weasels before they pop, Dink.”

    Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

  7. Well, wasn’t it Sartre who said, “I eat, therefore I am”?
    Or was it Kant?

  8. I haven’t read Gregg Easterbrook’s Progress Paradox, but this sounds like something that would complement its thesis.

  9. I haven’t read Gregg Easterbrook’s Progress Paradox, but this sounds like something that would complement its thesis.

  10. None of the “hollowing out” arguments I’ve seen in discussions about the shift from manufacturing to service industries have had anything to do with this topic.

  11. Not to mention, you can’t outsource service jobs. Well, you can, but a massage therapist in Bombay won’t do my back much good.

  12. Joe,

    Not that I’m disputing you, I kinda suspected the same thing, but I’m curious: what DO such arguments have to do with?

  13. fyodor,

    Lower wages. No overtime pay. In general, the belief that the service sector as a whole pays less than the manufacturing sector as a whole.

    Also, the belief that manufacturing creates wealth, while services just transfer existing wealth (half the workforce selling movie tickets to the other half is a phrase I’ve heard).

    Obviously, these opinions are based on an inappropriately narrow view of what the service sector is, an ignorance of what “the middle class” was, back when manufacturing/assembly jobs commonly put on in the middle class, and a misapprehension about how much money this country makes selling services abroad.

  14. Yea,I can remember those experences. The worst I
    ever had was wonderful.Don`t ask for details.

  15. The flipside of this is that, at least for me, having worked in both the service and manufacturing sectors, it is often more satisfying to have completed something tangible than something intangible. Note how people’s hobbies often involve handwork – tinkering with classic cars, model aviation, woodwork, etc.

    Assembly-line work may be repetitive and mindless, but at least you see the fruits of your labors rolling off the other end, and it is possible to see others enjoying what you helped create in the outside world.

    Right now I make a considerable portion of my income housepainting. It’s always been a sideline for me. Clearly, it is a service job, but it has very concrete, tangible results that are visible long after the transaction takes place. I often drive past previous jobs to see how they are weathering. I find it very satisfying. I can’t imagine that degree or duration of satisfaction coming from a service sector job where the visible results don’t last past the initial transaction, but that’s just me.

  16. Dink: Immanuel Kant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable; Heideger, Heideger was a boozy beggar who could drink you under the table. David Hume could out-consume Schopenhauer and Schlegel; and Lichterstein was a beery swine who was just as pissed as Hegel. God I love Python

  17. As do I, malak.

  18. I just had a malak moment.

  19. Jeff: Well as you pointed out the non-monetary value anyone sees in doing a job is partly subjective. Many people would obviously find service jobs, which often have to do with interacting with people, more meaningful. Do doctors find their work meaningful? Hairdressers? (they can make or break a persons appearance) Etc. Clearly not all service work is going to be particularly inherently rewarding but some is. Not all service work is likely to lead to significant increases in happiness for the purchaser either I would assume. Does maid service really make people happier for instance? I don’t know. At any rate people obviosly believe it will make them happier when they choose to purchase it no matter how mistaken they may be.

  20. As services make people happier I think we should FORCE everyone to spend more of their money on services. We could for instance give people tax breaks for buying services while increasing the taxes on those who buy goods to make up the difference.

  21. An underlying beauty is that we have enough wealth to choose more services. The people who make our essentials have become so efficient that we can support a nation of hairdressers and telephone sanitizers.

    For whatever the reason, the revealed preference is for services. People could choose to plow all their disposable income into woodworking tools and crochet hooks, which would delight the neanderthals who measure a nation’s success by how many people work in factories on home soil. Instead, although we buy some imported TVs and sexy cars, we do seem to blow most of our income for services (rendered on home soil).

    Long live the Telephone Sanitizers!

  22. Just hittin’ and runnin’ as we’re encouraged to do here, but don’t services require lower overhead, so providers don’t need so many lobbyists, so media, joined at the hip to politicians, tend to disparage them?

  23. One more semi-thought:
    Maybe services have a bad reputation because they had their origins from slaves.

    Liberals still can’t get over slaves’ jobs being stolen by the march of progress.

  24. Another argument in favor of legalizing prostitution, perhaps?

  25. > Keep that in mind next time you hear complaints that our shift toward services represents a ?hollowing out? of the U.S. economy.

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