Spring 2018 Issue - Consumerism
Browse the previous issue’s articles below, organised by magazine section.
The Go Abroad Economics scheme has been running since February 2015, when a group of staff and students embarked on the inaugural trip to Dubai. At the heart of the scheme is hands-on learning about economics, allowing students to apply their knowledge and curiosity to real-life issues. Students are largely responsible for organizing the trips, including visits to businesses, government offices, and political and financial institutions. These trips provide students with a global perspective on economics and give them opportunities to put their skills into practice. During the most recent winter break, students and staff travelled to Hong Kong to learn about the history, politics and economics of the region.
This section features the most recent GAE trip to Hong Kong, along with other articles discussing consumerism in China more broadly. There is a lot happening in this dynamic region, characterised by change and innovation. Feiyang Shi explores a change in Chinese government policy concerning capital outflows, James Baghurst details the rise of innovative mobile payment apps like Alibaba, and Stian Sandberg alerts us to the complex dynamics of China’s proposed Social Credit system.
Luxury is back in fashion! According to a recent study by Bain & Co, the global luxury goods market — encompassing both luxury goods and experiences — has rebounded following a short period of decline. In 2017, the market grew by 5% to an estimated €1.2tr worldwide and is projected to grow at similar rates in coming years. Interestingly, the main engine behind the industry’s success has been a generational shift with 85% of growth attributed to Generations Y and Z. ‘The Millennial State of Mind’ redefines the way luxury brands think about their clients by shifting attention to greater personalisation and enabling consumers’ self-expression.
Even though the luxury industry has enjoyed growth across all world regions, the real stars of its success story are rising emerging markets. China, in particular, has been a clear top performer with growing demand from the country’s new fashion-savvy middle class.
This section looks at the luxury goods market and consumption from different angles. The industry remains polarised between winners such as China, who are experiencing growth, and losers such as Poland who face declining sales and increasing numbers of bankruptcies. The notion of conspicuous consumption is as popular as ever, but the new millennial trends are transforming the nature of consumerism. It is an interesting time in the world of luxury and the coming years will show how well it has managed to adapt to these new challenges.
‘If you were a miserable poor person you’re going to be an equally miserable rich man’, is a cliché often cited by self-help advocates in order to promote the belief that happiness cannot be acquired, but only found within oneself. Consumerism attempts to disprove this notion of happiness ‘not being for sale’ by promoting products promising to satisfy our most innate desires. By commodifying emotions firms are able offer individuals the opportunity to exchange hours of tiring labour for treasured memories and a sense of contentment— however fleeting it may be. Regardless of our stance on the virtues of consumerism, it is undeniable that the ideology has left a multifaceted impact on global society; shaping individuals’ perceptions of wellbeing and life satisfaction.
Consumerism as a culture advocates for the ever increasing acquisition of goods and services, and was propagated by the growing European middle class of the late 17th century. With the associated omnipresence of advertising, luxury consumption and household debt have since been powerful forces in determining both what is produced and what individuals wish to consume. The articles ahead explore the complex relationship between consumerism and happiness. Are we in truth more satisfied as a result of our materialistic culture, or has it merely forced us to live a life of superfluous indulgence?
Technological advances now occur at a blistering and (crucially) increasing rate. As consumers try to keep up with the latest gadgets, we will likely continue to see a rise in per capita consumption. Some companies exacerbate this phenomenon by leveraging ‘planned obsolescence’, which is discussed on page 33. Another related beneficiary of technological innovations is trade. In the following couple of pages, Sam Bacevich explores how developing countries can strike a balance between effective protectionism and embracing global competition.
The expected rise in consumerism will be environmentally unsustainable if emissions continue to be proportional to consumption. Consequently, the question remains whether imminent technological leaps can sever that linear relationship, or continue to hurt the world just as it has since the industrialization. One of our articles considers a more recent illustration of the latter: the 43 million tons of e-waste which was discarded in 2016. Finally, this year’s issue of Insight wraps by addressing how we can use policies to achieve sustainable consumption.