Will Wilkinson takes the time to read (pdf) Benjamin Barber's Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole. He doesn't like it.
Barber claims that not only is modern capitalism no longer satisfying
real needs, but is in some sense making us worse off. The modern consumer,
Barber writes, "is less the happy sensualist than the compulsive
masturbator, a reluctant addict working at himself with little pleasure,
encouraged in his labor by an ethic of infantilization that releases him to
an indulgence he cannot altogether welcome" (p. 51). Not a pretty picture.
But, again, Barber is simply making things up…
If capitalism has stopped meeting real needs, we should not see improvement
in almost every indicator of well-being in capitalist nations.
But we do. I have no doubt that many of us consume lots of things that
Barber disapproves of—and having read this book, I have a very good
sense of which things those are—but there is nothing to be said in favor
of the moralized overproduction theory in the absence of a theory of
needs, and evidence that our current patterns of consumption are not
meeting real needs.
Loren Lomasky ventured into the Barberian land of make-believe back in 2000.