The Cost of Our Escapist Consumer Society

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), September 5, 2005 | Go to article overview
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The Cost of Our Escapist Consumer Society


Byline: By Martin Shipton Western Mail

A staggering amount of public money is being spent putting right the social ills caused by people trying to escape the pressures of our consumer-orientated society, according to a new report.

Dr Molly Scott Cato, of Cardiff Business School, has totted up the cost of a range of 'escape mechanisms', including alcohol abuse, illegal drugs, depression, gambling and smoking. She estimates the total annual drain on the British economy at pounds 53.5bn, very close to the pounds 54bn cost of the health service.

The pounds 53bn total is made up of:

Alcohol pounds 20bn

Illegal drugs pounds 20bn

Depression pounds 9bn

Gambling pounds 3bn

Smoking pounds 1.5bn

When other activities such as shopping and makeovers are taken into account the figure would go even higher.

The report - Counting the Costs - includes an introduction by Sir Mark Tully, the distinguished former India correspondent of the BBC and an essay by Jeremy Seabrook, the journalist and social commentator.

Produced jointly by the India-based Centre for Holistic Studies and the New Era Coalition, the report argues there is a considerable downside to our consumer-led society which extends into mainstream lifestyles including obsessive shopping, the consumption of junk food and even holiday 'mini-breaks'.

Areas of concern like this have a cost over and above the quantifiable social ills outlined by Dr Scott Cato.

Mr Seabrook writes, 'Addiction to alcohol, drugs, sex, escape, perpetual mobility, gambling, hypochondria, shopping, junk food, junk culture has transformed society into an unquiet, violent and restless compulsive disorder.

'Perpetual dissatisfaction is the basis on which economic growth and expansion is now predicated; a profound psychic disturbance of people who cannot rest or accept, not merely the social circumstances of their lives, but even the existential necessities of being human: but must change the way they look, prevent the effects of time on their bodies, turn back the clock, change their identity, transcend the low self-esteem of a self which oppresses and weighs down the turbulent spirit.

'The preoccupation with images, appearances, surfaces, makeovers, individual transformations, suggests something more than a natural human desire for improvement; rather, a mystical chase after transcendence, paradoxically through a materialism which renders this impossible.'

Dr Scott Cato uses official statistics to work out how much the negative aspects of our contemporary lifestyle is costing, prefacing her calculations with the statement, 'It is one of the direst indictments of developed economies that people are so dissatisfied that they need to find a multitude of means of escape.'

The total measurable cost of the major social problems she refers to is equivalent to 14% of entire government spending. How we escape from modern life: Tourism

THE classic form of escapism from the pressure of the economic system is 'getting away from it all' by taking a holiday.

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