Globalisation, Consumption and Green Consumerism

By Agrawal, Sarita | Political Economy Journal of India, January-July 2010 | Go to article overview

Globalisation, Consumption and Green Consumerism


Agrawal, Sarita, Political Economy Journal of India


Introduction

Consumption has been a part of the history of humankind. But the industrial revolution that shifted production from home to the factories has radically changed the structure of production from subsistence to mass production for profit. The industrial revolution has not only shifted production from home to factories, rather the structure of production from subsistence to mass production for profit. It ultimately gives rise to a consumer society. Human needs and desires have grown with technological innovations and rise in purchasing power. In the last 100 years or so, the level of mass consumption beyond basics has been exponential and is now a fundamental part of most economies. Luxuries once upon a time have turned into necessities and also the socio-cultural habits have transformed. These in turn have altered the very nature of the economies.

Globalization has come to dominate the world since the nineties. Increased reliance on the market economy and renewed faith in the private capital and resources, in terms of the process of liberalization has started in many of the developing countries.

Globalization has also brought in new opportunities to developing countries. Greater access to developed country markets and technology transfer promise improved productivity and higher living standards on an average in terms of rise in the consumption levels.

Leslie Sklair (2002) argues that consumerism is the essential component of the global capitalist project. The ideology of global capitalism is to persuade people to consume not simply to satisfy their biological and other modest needs, but in response to artificially created desires in order to perpetuate the accumulation of capital for private profit. In other words, to ensure that the global capitalist system continues for ever. The ideology of consumerism pronounces that the meaning of life is to be found in the things that we possess. "To consume, therefore, is to be fully alive, and to remain fully alive we must continuously consume."

The imperative of capitalist globalization implies that people have to be taught how to consume, in the special sense of creating and satisfying induced wants, the effect is perhaps most easily visible in developing countries. Globalization is projected as a great leap of human evolution in a march from nations to global markets. Markets are regulating not just our economies but also our lives. However, inequalities in consumption are alarming. Globally, the 20 percent of the world's people in the highest-income countries account for 86 percent of total private consumption expenditures--the poorest 20 percent a minuscule 1.3 percent. More specifically, the richest fifth:

* Consume 45 percent of all meat and fish, the poorest fifth 5 percent.

* Consume 58 percent of total energy, the poorest fifth less than 4 percent.

* Have 74 percent of all telephone line, the poorest fifth 1.5 percent.

* Consume 84 percent of all paper, the poorest fifth 1.1 percent.

* Own 87 percent of the world's vehicle fleet, the poorest fifth less than 1 percent.

Rising Income levels and Consumption in India

Households are transiting from low income to high-income categories in India. This would imply a consumption boom in the offing. Private consumption will play a major role in shaping the course of economic growth in India. The household component of consumption as per the latest estimate of NSS, 1993-94 is 59.7 percent of total private consumption as given by the CSO and, more importantly, this component for various reasons has steadily reduced in the past 10 to 15 years.

On an average, the growth of private consumption has improved in the 1990s vis-a-vis the 1980s. During the 1990s, there have been two phases viz., the high growth phase from 1993-94 to 1996-97 and low growth phase from 1997-98 to 2001-02. The growth in overall consumption expenditure declined marginally from 6 to 5. …

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