America’s Crippling Consumerism and why COVID-19 Might Change It Forever

Many years ago, legendary economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that society would become so prosperous and efficient as a result of the industrial revolution that people would hardly have to work. Those who once used to work long, hard hours only to barely make enough to survive and provide for their households would now be able to spend more time with their families and spend more money on goods. Given these facts, it seems completely reasonable for Keynes to assume that more time and money would ultimately lead to a higher standard of living.

For a while, it seemed that Keynes was right: Wages were increasing along with productivity from 1947 up until 1973 (where they have remained stagnant since) and Europeans were beginning to enjoy more leisure and goods. Americans, however, have been spending less time on leisure and more money on goods.

Renowned British economist John Maynard Keynes.
United Press International

Perhaps the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality of many individuals in America — or individuals’ sensitivity to others’ consumption — may be to blame for this obsession over material items, which has pressured many to go back to work in order to obtain more money for goods. It is also reasonable to assume that America’s ever-growing wealth inequality has worsened this problem over the past few decades, as well as the glorification of wealth in popular culture.

Europeans on the other hand have enjoyed more goods and more leisure. This may partially explain why Europeans experience higher standards of living, despite their countries not being nearly as wealthy as the United States. Generally speaking, the amount of time spent socializing with friends and family and enjoying art are crucial to the quality of one’s life, and a lack of social life can not be offset with more consumption. In fact, over-consumption can further deteriorate one’s quality of life.

Cartoon depicting the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality going too far.

However, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has forced many to work or go to school from their homes, creating more flexible schedules and free time as a result. Although it is currently unclear on whether the pandemic has had a significant influence on American consumerism, what we do know is that there has been more time for families to bond at home, and a vast majority of Americans enjoy working from home.

A recent poll reveals that 75% of Americans working from home due to COVID-19 would prefer to continue to do so at least half of the time. And a vast majority of employers and employees have also reported similar levels or even increases in productivity since workplaces have shifted to homes.

Although it is still early to tell, it is highly probable that COVID-19 has forever transformed workplaces and schools across America, allowing for more flexible schedules and free time. I am fairly certain that with this extra time, Americans may finally be able to recognize the value of leisure in life and replace it over rampant consumerism.

About the author

Damjan Nastic

Hello, and welcome to my blog! I'm Damjan Nastic, an economics major aspiring to encourage democratic participation amongst my fellow students through this page. I hope my page can offer a different perspective on pressing issues throughout the world.

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  • Hi Damjan,
    I was quite surprise by the informations that you collected. The number of people have to work from home due to the COVID-19 is around 75% which is surprised me. I think when the workplaces have ship to home the quality of working might be decrease, by contrast, the level is increased instead of decreased. I guess that working from home might be better for employees when they have more leisure time and their schedule is more flexible than before. But for students, the results might be different. Studying from home has a huge impact with my major. Most of science subjects that requires use a lab during the course. However, due to the pandemic we all have to do the lab virtually which is not useful compare to in person. But i can’t deny that since everything is hold online, I have more free time than normal. Overall, I really enjoyed reading your post.

  • Coronavirus has changed the way we live our everyday lives, and I think the question everyone is asking is when will things return to normal, or will society take a full 360 turn and change forever. Nowadays, people who would normally be successful are struggling to remain on two feet, as most have lost their job due to this worldwide pandemic. The economy has taken an enormous turn leaving people fighting for their lives as well as out of work with infinite bills to pay. I also agree with the statement that explains that as humans, social interaction is crucial between one another because we hug, shake hands, and interact with everyone as a way of communication. However, due to Coronavirus, the way we do everything is now through technology, via zoom, and social distancing. School is online now, which is a new learning method for every single being, and I know from my personal experience the transition has had me learn about how to manage my time better and improve my technology skills. As an aspiring nursing student, I am acquiring how to create study tips, find helpful resources, procrastinate less while being at home. Hopefully, things will return to normal, and people can get back on their feet and have a stable income again.