Consumerism and the Push for Socialism

It’s hard to believe that we’re entering into another presidential campaigning season, but it’s right around the corner. And one of the big calling cards of the left will be a push towards socialism. But why?

The Increasingly Loud Calls for Socialism

Identity politics have always played a powerful role within the Democratic Party. What was once a party of predominantly white males over the age of 40 has now become an eclectic mix of different genders, races, and religious backgrounds -- a real hodgepodge of 21st-century American culture. But in the push towards identity politics, the Democratic Party has found itself in the middle of its own identity crisis. It’s no longer simply about skin color and sexual orientation. For better or worse, it’s about eclectic ideology. And in many cases, this ideology runs counter to the foundational principles of America.

Last June, Democratic Party voters elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist -- into office. Two years before that, Senator Bernie Sanders – another self-described democratic socialist -- came very close to winning the party’s nomination for the presidency. Look around and there are a handful of other prominent Democrats and rising stars who are openly rallying around socialistic ideas. It’s no longer a hushed conversation behind closed doors -- it’s an overt push in the public eye.

“There’s clear leftward movement among Democratic voters on a range of issues, and there are more progressive candidates running than ever,” political correspondent David A. Graham writes for the Atlantic.

The data show that more Democratic voters now identify themselves as “liberal” than ever before. At the same time, the number of “moderate” Democrats has dropped to an all-time low. An increasingly large segment of the voter base is moving far left. And in an age when many liberal voters feel like President Donald Trump is giving capitalism a black eye, the calls for socialism sound sexy.

Millennials whose only understanding of socialism comes from nostalgic Che Guevara t-shirts are clinging to Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, and others like they’re visionaries with fresh ideas of future prosperity, when they’re actually pushing failed ideas that have historically caused significant harm and oppression to millions.

As this editorial on puts it, “Millennials may love socialism, but socialism won’t love them back.”

Consumerism, Shopping Addiction, and a Breaking Point

The push towards socialism isn’t all about politics, though. Other undertones are at play, which could lead to a groundswell in American culture. Chief among these factors is the growth of consumerism and, dare we say it, shopping addiction.

Researchers have spent decades studying shopping behaviors and have found that compulsive shopping has similar impulses to drug and alcohol addiction. In fact, one study suggests that 7 percent of American consumers -- or roughly 20 million adults -- have some degree of shopping addiction.

Consumerism will always be a defining characteristic of a wealthy capitalistic society, but there’s been a major spike in the last 20 years. This spike directly coincides with the rise in e-commerce and online shopping.

“The internet is a wonderful thing, but it can be like crack cocaine for people with an addictive personality,” writes Terrance Shulman, founder of the Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending, and Hoarding. “There’s an immediacy that can be a slippery slope.”

In a consumer-driven society, “things” equal status. The more you can buy, the more you can trick people into thinking you’re happy and fulfilled. And at a time when there’s serious income inequality and significant gaps between the lower, middle, and upper classes, the friction is becoming apparent.

Thousands of millennials are strapped with heavy student loan debt, low-paying jobs, and a high cost of living. Another large segment of the population has become exhausted by consumerism and craves a simplified system that’s “equal” for the masses. It’s at this intersection that we find the breaking point that makes socialism seem so sexy.

Socialism: Clearly Not the Answer

As appealing as socialism seems to someone who (a) is struggling to find economic prosperity and (b) has never experienced socialism firsthand, it’s clearly not the answer. All you have to do is pick up a history book or talk to someone who has experienced the oppression of socialism, and it becomes quite clear. However, there are other solutions that Americans can implement in order to overcome the exhaustion of consumerism and discover greater satisfaction.

Effective change doesn’t happen from the top down; it happens from the bottom up. In other words, we don’t need to elect radical leaders into office so that they can enact sweeping changes. Instead, we each need to focus on our own lives and make small changes to how we approach money, shopping, saving, and investing. Collectively, these results will have far more power.

Here are a few suggestions for how you can subdue the exhausting “more is better” approach and make smarter money decisions:

  • Avoid and eliminate debt. Crippling debt may seem normal, but it shouldn’t be. Americans would do well to avoid adding on any new debt and to aggressively pay down balances so that they have more room in their budgets to make smart financial decisions.
  • Use coupons. Nobody is telling you not to shop. But you do need to be smarter about how you shop. Learn how to use coupons to save money on items you’re already purchasing. Purposeful spending is the mark of a fiscally savvy person.
  • Save more. When you eliminate debt and practice smarter spending, you have money left over to save and invest. Experts recommend putting at least 15 percent of your income towards retirement.
  • Understand want vs. need. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you have to learn how to differentiate between a want and a need. The lines have been blurred over the years and we can all benefit from gaining a clearer understanding of what constitutes a real need. (Hint: You don’t have very many.)

These four suggestions aren’t going to solve all of America’s economic problems, but they do show the importance of personal responsibility. The government isn’t designed to prop up Americans financially. It exists to protect the inalienable rights of the people. The sooner people realize this, the quicker we can stop talking about socialism.

Freedom at Any Cost

“Contemporary capitalist societies like Germany rely on nostalgic socialism both as its context and its target. At best, this tendency reduces socialism to a Disney-fied consumption experience. At worst, it perpetuates entrenched social biases and inequalities,” writes Markus Giesler, Associate Professor of Marketing at Schulich School of Business, York University.

While America doesn’t have a socialist past, we certainly have a growing problem in which young voters are attracted to a “Disney-fied” version of it -- and it’s dangerous.

“The real value of a socialist past is that it can open up new ways for interrogating our capitalist present -- and the forces we allow to shape both how we remember the past and how we forget,” Giesler continues.

As the Democratic Party and its voter base continue to experience an identity crisis, it’s important for the rest of us to stand up and support freedom at any cost. Change can be good, but it should always be filtered through the foundational principles that our Founding Fathers laid out all those years ago.