Why Do We Consume So Much?

by Juliet B. Schor, Clemens Lecture Series 13, 2001

"Why do we consume so much?" Observers of consumption have answered this question in many ways. Because it's our human nature. Because ads tell us to. Because we can't help ourselves. Because our economic system needs us to. Because we are trapped in a fruitless dynamic of desire, acquisition and disappointment. Because he who dies with the most toys wins. Just because we can.

These answers are inadequate. But I believe we can find more satisfying ones by a critical application of both economic and sociological theory, which will not only help to explain why we consume the way we do, but also how we might start to live differently. But before proceeding I need to clarify two points. Whom do I mean by “we”? And what do I mean by “so much”?

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