Anxieties of consumerism

One of the comments widely heard these days is about the increasing link of India with the global economy and consequences of globalization on our culture. Increasing consumerism is leading to a certain degree of anxiety in the elder generation who were brought up in a different culture.

Thanks to the information technology industry, youngsters right out of college get fabulous salaries and this had led to a change in lifestyle and attitude towards money. While citizens brought up in a different culture may balk at the idea of spending up to Rs. 400 – 500 on a pizza, youngsters do not bat an eyelid while throwing thousands of rupees for one evening’s party.

There is another dimension to this consumer culture. Lifestyle in terms of having everything that has brand value has becomes the ideal. The systematic promotion of branded consumer goods is an increasingly visible phenomenon in the market these days. It is not only FMCG that matters. Demand is also growing for long-term investment in fixed assets like homes. The focus on home loans and consumer durables has also been promoted by the increased liquidity and cash availability with the younger generation which consists of DINK (double income no kids) or DINS (double income no sex) families.

The result is that to-day we are in an age where greed is good and instant gratification is the ideal. The changed attitude to money has also led to a change in the attitude to life which the older generation may perceive to be against the traditional approach of Indians to money. The older generation prefers to save for tomorrow. Today, it appears that there is no tomorrow and whatever has to be had, it has to be had to-day and just now.

In other words, the tendency or propensity for savings has been replaced by the propensity for not savings.

There is only one country that has been able to live with this culture of all-round consumerism and the philosophy of instant gratification. It is only one country where one’s wealth saved, but in terms of what the lending institutions to be the credit limit of that person — the United States.

US has been able to maintain this lifestyle and approach to the economy, because by a happy coincidence, the dollar, the currency of the United States has become the universal currency and other countries also want to retain savings in dollars.

For that matter, saving has been an important feature of the economy in the South East Asian countries and investment followed. Some countries like Singapore and the tiger economies of 80s in Asia had miraculous growth because of high rates of savings and there has been also increasing growth of productivity.

What is likely to happen in India? If India is likely to witness the growth of an American-style consumer culture and evolve into a society where being in debt is not considered something undesirable then there is a possibility that the situation may lead to running into problems.

This is there perhaps we should take note of another trend also. Just as the companies issuing credit cards and the entire consumers product industry is urging people to spend and cheerfully go into debt, there are also the other currents blowing of mutual funds and non-banking financial corporations. They are trying to encourage investment in their institutions and funds and are tempting with attractions to the element of greed in the human mind.

Ultimately, whether the hidden anxiety about the consumer culture will prove detrimental, will depend upon how effective the efforts of those institutions and industries which operate in the opposite direction succeed.