Consumerism, corruption, and the corporate hegemony
Md Anwarul Kabir
TO live on the earth, for survival, we must consume foods, essential products or services. Nothing is wrong in it and this is not consumerism. In fact, the working definition of consumerism is the consumption of products or services for fulfilling the artificial demands created in the human psyche. In the myth of consumerism, by consuming products and services the individual perceives that eventually he/she will be gratified and integrated. Unfortunately, consumerism offers only short term ego-gratification for those who can afford the luxury and frustration for those who can not. Take an example, many youngsters from the lower middle class and onward dream of owning the latest model mobile sets. However, a few of them can afford to buy them and many cannot. Those who cannot afford to buy suffer utmost frustration. Even the fortunate ones, who could afford to own it, albeit satisfy temporarily, fall again in frustration as within a shortest span of time this 'latest' model will not be the latest anymore as new model mobiles will be channelled into the market by the manufacturers. So, the phenomenon of such consumerism is never ending.
If we objectively analyse, then it will be revealed that the consumerism, indeed, is the bi-product of the free market economy, the basis of corporate culture and neo-capitalism of this post modern era. The driving force of neo-capitalism has paved the way for the rapid expansion of corporate culture by exploring the advantage of globalisation.
The implications of consumerism are manifold and this short article has no scope to discuss in detail. However, in a brief some implications are cited below:
a) Extensive environmental damage: Excessive production and use of refrigeration, especially by the first world have generated CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) which causes the depletion of the Ozone layers of the atmosphere. This, in turn, will lead the planet earth in an un-repairable devastating situation. Besides due to consumerism Factories become enrooted and forests cannot be rebuilt
b) Distance between the rich and the poor: Globally, the 20% of the world's people in the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3%. Multinational companies, mostly owned by the richest countries will expand their business establishment worldwide leaving no opportunity for the manufacturers of the lone third world countries. This eventually, enhances the further gap between the rich and the poor.
c) Advertisement controlled market: In consumer driven society, people buy commodities/services on the basis of advertisement rather than assessing real qualities of the products. Besides, the prime deciding factor for buying many of the products is based on advertisement--- not on the actual needs of the individuals.
d) Impact on culture: Indigenous or traditional culture of the countries will be replaced by the corporate culture due to consumerism. For instance, McDonald culture has changed to a greater extent the indigenous food habits. Even in Bangladesh, to the members of the urban younger generation fast food (e.g. Burger, pizza) has the more appeal than traditional pithas, chira/muri, doi etc.
e) Decaying of morality: In the consumer driven society, a person's worth is determined by his/her buying capacity. Moral values, honesty, wisdom etc. are the least determinant factors in a consumer driven society.
f) Social alienation: In a consumer driven society, people has to work for longer time to meet up his artificial demands. This eventually will socially isolate the people. This is very common in the USA and in other developed countries. To some extent, in the urban area of our country, especially in Dhaka this phenomenon has already been initiated.
There is a strong correlation between consumerism and the all pervasive corruption worldwide. In developed countries, especially in the USA and the countries of West Europe some ethical corruption are legalised as most of the governments in those countries are indirectly controlled by the profit monger corporate or in other word multinational companies who have their own agenda following the free market economy.
He who has the gold makes the rulesthis theory is quite applicable in the capitalist world. Take the USA as an example. Both the two major parties Republic and Democrat are patronised by the big multinational companies. As the other political parties who stand against capitalism and who campaign for the working class including 13% of the people who are under poverty line cannot succeed in the election, mainly due to crisis in party funds. It may be noted here, like our country in the developed countries also money
is the most powerful instrument in the national electoral process. So, this assertion becomes evidential when we see that over the half of presidents of the USA came from the wealthiest 3% of the Americans while at least a dozen sprang from the loins of elitists in the top of 1%. Statistics from 2005 shows that 143 of 435 US representatives and one in three senators were millionaire. These people, no doubt, were connected to the corporate world in one way or another. Presumably, recent statistics will reveal the similar pattern of representatives in the US government.
Due to their inherent background, these powerful people have strong influence in formulating policies in favour of corporate interests. For instance, a policy of GATT (The General Agreement on Traffic and Trade) chalked out by the Clinton and Bush administrations has prohibited penalties for goods produced under substandard labour and environmentally damaged conditions in line with the demand of the corporate interests. Behind the unethical aggressive war against Iraq initiated by the Bush administration, the multinational companies were very active with the hidden intention to capture the natural resources there.
However, in the USA and the corporate led countries in Europe corruptions are not visible to a great extent as most of the ethical corruptions are legalised there at the policy level. But the context of the third world countries is completely different. Especially, if we closely examine the society of Bangladesh then it will not be hard to find the linkage of corruption to consumerism. Decades ago, consumerism was localised in the USA and in some countries in Europe. However, as the corporate world needs new markets for their commodities, they have rapidly spread the creeds of consumerism all over the world using the advantages of globalisation. At this point of history, Bangladesh is passing through a transition period. For a capitalist country, presence of a strong national bourgeois class is a must. But agro-based Bangladesh lacks such a strong bourgeois class and this vacuum is fulfilled by the lumpen bourgeois class who are the major constituent of the leadership of our political parties. The involvement in massive corruption on part of the leadership of the political parties can be explained in line of consumerism. Especially, if we look into the lavish pattern of expenditure and royal life style of the most of the leaders and their families of the last political coalition government then the influence of consumerism on this lunatic class is predominantly hallmarked. For instance, owning high end expensive cars, luxurious apartments, the Bagan Baris by many of the individual MPs and their lifestyle have reflected this assertion. Obviously, these sorts of consumerism have gratified them at the cost of exploitation of public money.
Evidences of involvement of multinational companies in corruption process at the government level in Bangladesh can also be traced if proper investigation could have been done. The interests of the multinational companies in our countries are two fold. Firstly, they need to create markets for their service and products. Secondly, they need to capture our natural resources, especially, gas, oil and coal which are essential in producing consumable items. To fulfil these, involving with the policy makers at the government level, they are ready to do any sort of corruptions. Above all, corporate culture knows only the business ethics; they hardly consider any moral ethics.
For better development of the planet, we must combat the consumerism. But this is not that an easy task. People of the earth are now in a pro-people ideological vacuum. One of the basic laws in physics dictates that no system can exist in a vacuum state. This law is also applicable to the case of socio-economics environment of the world. So, the consumerism, at the present complex socio-economic structure of the world, gets its footings in the absence of any strong pro-people ideology. So, to escape from the curse of consumerism, at first we need to reengineer our socio-economic and political environment with a view to eliminating the evil influence of consumerism and free market economy.
(Md. Anwarul Kabir teaches Computer Science at AIUB. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)