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Does Consumerism Degrade Democracy?

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Conversing with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, Benjamin Barber commented:

"Democracy means pluralism. If everything’s religion, we rightly distrust it. If everything’s politics, even in good politics, we rightly distrust it. But when everything’s marketing and everything’s retail and everything’s shopping, we somehow think that enhances our freedom. Well, it doesn’t. It has the same corrupting effect on the fundamental diversity and variety that are our lives, that make us human, that make us happy. And, in that sense, focusing on shopping and the fulfillment of private consumer desires actually undermines our happiness."

What do you think?

  • Do you agree with Barber’s take on consumerism?

  • Do Barber's remarks have a special resonance during the holiday marketing blitz?

  • If so, how can we as individuals and as a society transcend the commercialism to bring more humanity and "fundamental diversity and variety" to our holiday experience?


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    Lots of Good information in your post, I favorited your blog post so I can visit again in the future, Cheers

    I don't agree with the title of this piece. There are two misconceptions at work. 1) We don't live in a Democracy. 2) Capitolism drives this train, not (as suggested) the Keynesian Model. We are very wastefull as a society.

    consumerist.com/ is democracy.

    Dear Mr. Moyer,
    I watched your interview with Benjamin Barber about today’s problems with consumerism and capitalism. Although I was aware of the state of our economy, I found the interview very eye opening and disturbing. I found it very interesting that even a cartoon was pointing out society’s obsession with buying unneeded products. It was a scary thought when you talked about how indebted we will be to China and other countries who own the dollar.
    I completely agree with Mr. Barber’s view that consumerism has gotten out of hand. The stores are producing anything and everything they think will make them some money, whether people need it or not. If we don’t need it, they trick us into thinking we do. I’d like to reference the pet rock. How someone made society believe that they needed to pay money to get a rock for a pet is beyond me. I also agreed with Mr. Barber when he said the marketers create a hysteria about purchasing. He uses Black Friday as an example. While it is the customers’ decision to shop that day, I feel that the corporations pressure people to shop that day at obscene hours by leading them to believe they are saving money at sales. Mr. Barber also made a validate point when he said that capitalist societies have turned adults into children when it comes to shopping. When we are children we have to have everything, the latest toy, more candy, etc.. As we grow up we are suppose to grow out of that phase and learn to live within our means so we can create a secure life for our children and families. Unfortunately, today’s marketers and credit card companies, with help from some others, have been undoing that teaching. You don’t have the money? That’s ok, just put it on a credit card.
    At the holidays this gets immensely worse. I don’t know when Christmas and the other holiday’s became so commercialized. When did it become about shopping at four o’clock in the morning rather than about being with family. At this time of the year people put themselves in debt to buy everything for everyone. We don’t save anymore and we spend more than we make. Why does it take the holiday season to make us donate money to causes and to actual needs. Corporations should be investing in this all year round instead of producing products we don’t have a need for.
    I think the best way as individuals and as a society to overcome the commercialism and make a change is to be tougher. Mr. Barber mentioned this as one of his ways to encourage capitalism to meet real human needs, and I think he is right. If we do not let the companies make us think we need the products it put us back in control. If we stop buying them, they will stop making them. If we don’t spend needlessly on every latest item that comes out we won’t be so indebt. We need to go back to saving more than we spend and to living within our means if we want to save capitalism.

    Dear Mr. Moyer:
    I watched your interview “Consumed” with Benjamin Barber posted on the below website: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/12212007/watch.html
    I thought it was very interesting and true. In the beginning of the video, when you were describing the cartoon “Word Girl”, and the product called “The Thing”. I believe there are many “things” on the market today that consumers feel they cannot live without, and a lot of it is due to the commercials they see. Fads rapidly come and go through our culture. When I was about 8 years old, “Pogs” were really popular. They were just little round pieces of cardboard with pictures on them. Pogs were a lot like “The Thing”. It was something kids did not need, but something they wanted because commercials and other kids said they should have. When a trend is popular, it seems like everyone tries to make it a part of their lives, especially with children and teens trying to fit in with their peers. Now it seems even more apparent with the older crowd as well. Between car commercials and the new technology of iPhones and flat screen televisions in high definition, it is something that is affecting consumers of all ages.
    As I continued to watch the video, Barbers point about the bottled water was also very interesting. I always knew how the cola companies invested money in other things such as the bottled water, but I never knew it was a $20 billion a year industry. That was a bit astonishing to me, and the point he made about the third world countries not having potable water is a very good one. Almost all people in the world today have money as their main motivation. Supplying a third world country with drinkable water would make the world a better place in those areas and change the lives of millions of people, and the cola companies could easily afford to do that, but they will not because there is nowhere near as much money in it for them. It is an absolute travesty in today’s society, and I feel it is one of the biggest flaws in the modern man.
    This was a good interview and it brought up many great points about the consumers in our country today. People have the freedom to spend their money on whatever they want and sometimes forget about what they need. One of the last points in the interview is about the lack of saving people do today and how it will affect their children and grandchildren. People need to look beyond the dollar and see how their actions are affecting more than just themselves. The children of the future and the people in other parts of the world today will continue to suffer from the actions we make. It is unfair, but unfortunately it is something that will continue to happen unless we step back and consider the people around us and how we are affecting them as well.

    Carl writes: "... its time for Americans to actually learn second languages so they can move overseas, taking their entreprenureal skills and cash with them."

    Eben! I'm learning German as quickly as I can.

    Someday, it may be absolutely necessary for me to TRY to emigrate to Germany - it would be good to live in a democratic country for a change.

    Finally, I think it is true: 'America' doesn't live HERE anymore!

    Just reviewed the interview with Benjamin Barber and sent it to my son who is working in the marketing division of a huge foreign international corporation. I am wondering what Mr. Barber thinks about Mr. Bush's plan to give taxpayers a refund of $500-$800 so they can "spend us out of a recession"? Of course the aim is to give the money to the "poor" (less than $150,000 income families) so they will go right out and spend it. It seems like "the inmates are running the asylum"

    My post seeks to engage Bill Moyer and/or Benjamin Barker's comment on the "Crisis in Capitalism?" podcast. Bill Moyer says 'Here is a question, maybe it comes from your book. When politics permeates everything, we call it totalitarianism, when religion permeates everything, we call it theocracy, but when commerce pervades everything, we call it liberty." Dr. Barber goes on to say it 'that is the central paradox of our time.'

    I am confused, because commerce is a economic term referring to buying and selling of commodities, while liberty is a political & existential term 'being free' or the 'power to do what one pleases' - M-W.com . So the word used would be consumerism instead of liberty.

    But still, it isn't quite that simple. The first two statements in the podcast expressed stated a social value system and the consequences when it is unchecked and allowed to pervade at all levels of the value system mentioned. The analysis for each was dead on accurate, but the third statement in the pattern does not fit seeming to be artificial or contrived.

    Commerce is a consequence of cooperative human activity, a socialistic state has commerce, even a feudal state has commerce. The difference for commerce in a socialistic country and a capitalistic country centers around control of planning, production, and distribution. What if a political system in a country is Communist, then does that lead to liberty if communistic commerce pervades everything? So commerce does not fit into the context of the two previous statements, it is not a value system, nor does it fit into the segment in the larger context.

    The type of an economic system would be a value system. So, what if the third statement was capitalism, which fits in the larger context. It would be something like, 'when capitalism permeates everything, we call it plutocracy'. This explains way we feel a loss of liberty, everything seems out of control and out of kilter, corrupt coupled with awareness that our voice and vote carries no weight. A sense of listlessness is riding over this milieu.

    Mr. Moyers, I deeply enjoyed this conversation, as most it not all, it was informative. Your discussion with Dr. Barber went on to talk about capitalism and its role. The piece had capitalism in its title, so why did you side step the elephant at this poignant time in the conversation?

    RE how can we as individuals and as a society transcend the commercialism to bring more humanity and "fundamental diversity and variety" ... to our lives???

    We can't when we have the likes of "celebrity" fundraising ala Trump with more assault on humans albeit paid for by sponsors. True philanthropists don't need to go on TV to do their goodwill, nor would they. It's far more cost effective to contribute charitable dollars directly to NGOs for human welfare.

    Such folly is a perfect example of Americans exhaustive pre-occupation with consumerism, and inability to turn off TV and the credit cards.

    We're in a downward spiral -- entropy -- I really don't think we can recover from now, and the past 7 years in America put us over the edge.

    Good Gravy, yes, consumerism degrades us. Sorry, this stuck a familiar chord! ;0(

    Excellent thread, all - just take a glimpse at our TV offerings of late - Trump is now infamous for his rude, obsessive behaviour, and Dancing with the Stars is not ballroom dancing but "ala Vegas (a competition couple would never get into a legit dance competition is those outfits)," and ads are now timed to be the same on each Network, with more consumables thrown at us than program content time, on and on. In this "faith-based Administration" the first anyone hears about Christian holy days is the commercialism, yet we're plagued with digitalized images to convince us that most non-westernations are akin to the black hold of Calcutta, and that isn't the truth. That folks is commercialist, and we are not free, nor enlightened, any more.

    The interview with Mr Barber was a very insightful one. Coming from India and having grown up there, I should say that my first exposure to consumerism was in the US although with the advent of globalization, India is not too far behind either. In my growing up years, the concepts of “living within your means” and “savings” were drilled deep down into my head. (That hasn’t helped me to avoid falling prey to it myself.) Credit cards were non-existent. I agree with Barber’s assessment 100% in that single minded, selfish consumerism without consideration to the general health and well being of a society as a whole is one of the big reasons for the disparities we see today resulting in hot spots of fundamentalism and radicalism due to extreme poverty.

    His hypothetical example of a bottled water company investing and innovating in Africa which desperately needs clean drinking water instead of (or in addition to) catering to people in the US with purified tap water stood out for me, although I believe initiatives like that would be more effective when they come from a government level. There are several NGOs all over the world who are already doing some pioneering work in these areas but what’s lacking is a concerted effort from the so-called developed nations. It’s not the will but the pace that’s not sufficient.

    yes capitalism is on its way out with its greed and corruption of human values and spirituality

    The theme of excess,buy buy buy is a topic discussed frequently by my friends and me. Trying to convince some people about the lemming-like behavior of always having a bottle of water with them is sometimes futile...as though they would dehydrate between here and the movie theater! We have talked and talked about how the C students are now ruling the world and naturally they think that stuff makes them happy.
    We quote often Big Daddy from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof....Big Daddy and Paul Newman's character are in a basement full of stuff..and Newman asks, "Why does Big Mama buy all this stuff, Daddy?" BD answers, " She thinks that the next thing she buys will get her into heaven." Or that dress or shoes will suddenly make a person beautiful. Such instant gratification speaks to the weakness of today's character.

    I went to North Texas State when Bill Moyers was there and he ran for Student Body President and I worked on his campaign.He has long forgotten Don and Shirley Baker, but we are very proud of having breathed the same air as he did back in '52 or '53. Keep up the good work. I never miss your program. SB

    I was very interested to read the excerpts from Barber's book and his notion of "creolization". He ends up speaking of the python assimilating the rabbit, in other words, the multinational corporate interests homogenizing the world making the majority into enslaved consumers. This has been happening for decades -- I already saw it when I travelled abroad in the 60's & 70's.

    Whether we actually have it or not, the citizens of the US and those who dream of coming here believe in our freedom. It is why I never feared a communist overthrow: our very powerful founding mythology is one of independence and freedom. The problem is we don't recognize that the freedom to purchase is not the freedom our forepersons fought and died for. Being valued only as a consumer drone is the modern day form of slavery. We are being bought and paid for every day.

    That the new market and source of impoverished 3rd world workers want to drink Starbucks or Coke, eat at the golden arches and lose their culture and rights they haven't even gotten yet has a lot to do with the cause of the impotence that sources some terrorism. People see the secular materialism of the west/1st world as economic corporate imperialism which they are powerless to stop from destroying life as they know it or would like it to be. Whatever the idealists say, all wars are about money and power, that includes religious power. So we have unholy alliances on all sides between religions, corporate and financial intstitutions, governmental and military industrial complexes.

    What's a person to do? Be aware and make informed choices where and how we spend our money, who we elect, and to whom/what we give. We have the power of our consumer dollars. Our participation is necessary. For all that we may feel powerless, disenfranchised, we are not. In fact, whether your point of view is scientific or spiritual, we are part of an interactive whole and everything about us is included in that. For the spirit of freedom to prevail, which it will, we have only to notice where we are being controlled, manipulated and enslaved and cease participating. Do we want to be a programmed Pacman gobbling up the world and its resources, or is there another way to be? The American Dream is not to own a 3,000 sq. ft. home with all the toys, it's to have the right to be who we are. It's time we fought for that at the check out counter. We can do so much more when we recognize that we need so much less to live a good and fulfilling life.

    Thank you, Mr. Moyers, for reentering the public air waves with your Journal. It's so good to have places where real conversations can take place.

    One Reaps what One sows and my what a web we have woven.
    Time for a Democrat Congress and a Democrat President again.
    At least then we will all know who is behind what.
    We are already controlled but done so with an invisible hand. This is what is truly scary.
    Thanks Bill for exposing at least some of the truth about the US today.

    It's true, Dr. Charles Taylor is a more than worthy interviewee for Moyer's
    Journal as stated by poster norbeweckerle. It would probably be difficult to get him now that he has given the Gifford Lecture and collected over a million from the John Templeton foundation. I never object to a good old intellectual discussion of the proper place and uses of spiritual belief and religion, though I have little myself.

    Although I generally agreed with Benjamin Barber and Sanford Levinson, they both ignored more fundamental flaws in capitalism and democracy, which will perpetuate and deepen the problems they describe. As long as profit maximization and perpetual economic growth are the foundations of capitalism, it and we are doomed. As long as money buys public policy, democracy will remain feeble and plutocracy will rule.

    Although it is encouraging that this show regularly highlights the weaknesses of our democracy, the urgency of the analysis needs to address head-on the fact that money—in the form of campaign contributions that are necessary to win elections and then sway the votes of those elected, and corporate power to consolidate media ownership and pressure mainstream media to toe the line—control public policy which favors the rich at the expense of the greater good. The guests on this show that write and talk of our “democracy” being in trouble (because of the excesses of the Bush administration) stop short. Our democracy is a pseudo one. Our system of government is clearly a plutocracy and has been one for ever. It’s just become more extreme since Reagan.

    This type of socialist/fascists propaganda always leaves out the bottom line. Mr. Barber didn't put into words his plan...which is "more government to fix it". And, of course, when that doesn't work, he will say "well, the government just didn't do exactly what I wanted it to do...we just need the government to try harder (tax and spend more). Even if you don't like what others are doing THEY HAVE A RIGHT TO DO IT...as long as they are not violating your rights.

    A good show would motivate people to resist. As several posters stated we are already in fascist conditions as a nation.(Naoimi Wolf, author of "The Beauty Myth" agrees in her latest writings.) This is unprecedented fascism too in that it is happening in the midst of a multifaceted ecological crisis, an energy crisis and an economic crisis. Moyers reports it as a parallel moral crisis.

    Not all of us can visit grandchildren in a quaint Vermont village not yet conquered by a Walmart world. I was talking with a fellow activist in the local grocery. (He works on medical issues concerning nursing home care and costs.) He admitted he shops for food at Walmart and is convinced he can't make ends meet any other way. I'm poor too because I'm outspoken and blacklisted from many job opportunities. People don't think of us as heroes, and even our families are ashamed of our inability to consume here at Christmas. I don't miss the presents or decorations, but I do miss being close with people. I fear that my dearest ones are mistaking my discussion of alternatives to global corporate capitalism as treason or insanity, that they will find an opportunity to turn me in, that I will die in a concrete cell waterboarded, electrocuted or butchered by stereoid thugs. It has become plain to me that the powerful in our society are resorting to terroristic tactics and are ready for mass murder at home to preserve wealth and power. Yet the main thing we have to fear is eachother, indulgent in fantasy, greed and power worship.

    We know Ben Barber is on the wrong side when he brags that peole call him to ask, "What is wrong with consumers?" He visits Moyers to hawk books. His contadictions match those of Joanne Ciulla (now moved to Univ. of Richmond) who propounds a circumscribed ethics appropriate for commercial uses. The niche is there and they fill it for profit.

    Bill Moyers: You are an old man in a position to take risks, be an example of resistance. Why not bring on some chance takers, not just preachers and academics. Equillibrium will not solve these problems. Even one radical show followed by censorship would do more than this stirring of the soup. Tell people it's OK to get real, that there is still hope, that they can't jail or punish everyone.

    Also, bring us visionaries who can see over the hill beyond the inevitable suffering, to solar power and mass transit,wholesome food production in the community, cities that feel like home, needs met with a production consensus, people who need one another and get along. Death to Capitalism (not to small scaled and collective enterprise) and to the Fascism where its inequality inevitably leads! beretco.op@gmail.com

    Wish you would consider interviewing (contact) winner of 2007 templeton award---Dr. Charles Taylor (prof) Comments please new

    I kinda got a laugh out of his comments about how capitalism should be addressing the alternative energy scene more.

    Yes, we as a nation can create such alternatives. We already have. The trouble is, twisted government policy means these advances never see mass adoption, or in some cases, even the light of day. We live in a world nowadays where we simply cannot have new technologies emerge and threaten the established wealth holdings in those existing technologies that could be rendered obsolete. Its the power of big wealth protecting their own.

    Ten years ago we had a fully electric vehicle built by, and looking like, and ordinary Saturn that was capable of 185 mph and a 160 miles-per-charge range. Again, that was ten years ago, with the battery technology of ten years ago.

    But electric cars powered by energy sources unrelated to oil companies (coal generated electricity) just could not be allowed to succeed in this country. Instead, the new savior being introduced, despite a track record of technical success that hardly equals the electric car platform, is the hydrogen fuel cell (something the existing oil interests are involved with). Politically, we simply cannot be allowed to create a fleet of vehicles which bypasses the energy teat offered by the oil wealth in this country.

    This is what distorted free markets are all about. You aren't naive enough to think this country isn't smart enough to have already developed something better than the internal combustion engine, are you? Here we are building houses that look like George Jetson's, and yet its so mystifying that we cannot seem to create a vehicle that bypasses a gas station in this country. And "what a shock" that the newly endorsed alternative on the horizon uses a hydrogen fueling station that carries the same corporate logo on it as most gas stations.

    Since we cannot compete in a globalized world on price factors, we are supposed to be looking towards a new US economy that is based on creativity and ideas, yet the things we do create never see the light of day because doing so actually puts the risk back into capitalism. And anymore, established wealth holders want the gravy train of rewards without the risk.

    Yes! This is all too true.

    I cannot believe the droves of people buying shopping carts full of crap for Christmas. Badly made clothing...ugly ornaments... items that are utterly useless... and none of them made in USA.

    It is such a turnoff to me, yet it's true-- the masses react as if they are on a drug, was it Soma Aldous Huxley predicted?, buying stuff just to buy stuff, falling into debt, while the issues of the day are just ignored.

    There IS no Democracy if the populace is not enlightened. And I don't see any enlightenment anywhere... tho surely Bill Moyers is trying!

    Well Too little too late.
    What Barber says or Bill Moyers writes about or a few people with a conscience think and feel it is just all Talk and nothing more.
    We in the US have gone from Capitalism to Facsim not the same as it was in Germany under Hitler or Italy, but to a relatively close second cousin.
    We have fewer companies owning larger amounts of wealth. Some of us work for those very companies. Bill Moyers program and the PBS Stations get a lot of their under writing done by the very same corporations.
    When people ask about wanting Less Government, Less Taxes and Less Regulation it is a fair need/requirement of people. Sure who would not want that, but nobody ever is willing to explain what it means of having Less Government, Less Regulation and thereby less Taxes.
    To have Less Government would require the abolishment of all Agncies like the FDA, the SEC, the EPA,Dept of Education, Dept of Health and Human Services, Dept of Homeland Security etc.
    Ok we get rid of these agencies thereby reducing the number of people working in these agencies. The assumption to be made here would be that the Corporations would be Honest and respect all the rules/laws we have commonly agreed to and put on our books at the State and Federal levels.
    We would need no regulations if all the Businesses always did the right thing i.e. Exxon creates a spill in the Ocean through negligence, they admit to their fault and take appropriate actions to clean up and compensate without being forced to do so ( require policing and enforcement) or a Merck to admit that it has made a mistake that it knowingly suppressed evidence that shows it's drug could cause harmful side effects.
    Now if we had Businesses and thereby individuals living up to a certain set of decent code of conduct i.e doing the right thing then sure we would need less of everything and thereby persevere in our pursuit of Happiness and Liberty.
    Well Capitalism is just a Word describing a set of Values we humans adopt.
    Many of the readers and viewers of this show work for Corporations that constantly push products and services that we never need or want yet these same people are also concerned .
    RIGHT...
    GIVE ME a Break, you cant have it both ways.
    If we don't buy into this model then we have to speak out at our work and outside as well and be willing to deal with the consequences.
    Until then TALK WILL REMAIN CHEAP and the SPIN DOCTORS will continue to SPIN and we shall continue to Invest in Mutual Funds that are contradictory to what we discuss and write and talk about including the Highly Regarded Bill Moyers.

    Well Too little too late.
    What Barber says or Bill Moyers writes about or a few people with a conscience think and feel it is just all Talk and nothing more.
    We in the US have gone from Capitalism to Facsim not the same as it was in Germany under Hitler or Italy, but to a relatively close second cousin.
    We have fewer companies owning larger amounts of wealth. Some of us work for those very companies. Bill Moyers program and the PBS Stations get a lot of their under writing done by the very same corporations.
    When people ask about wanting Less Government, Less Taxes and Less Regulation it is a fair need/requirement of people. Sure who would not want that, but nobody ever is willing to explain what it means of having Less Government, Less Regulation and thereby less Taxes.
    To have Less Government would require the abolishment of all Agncies like the FDA, the SEC, the EPA,Dept of Education, Dept of Health and Human Services, Dept of Homeland Security etc.
    Ok we get rid of these agencies thereby reducing the number of people working in these agencies. The assumption to be made here would be that the Corporations would be Honest and respect all the rules/laws we have commonly agreed to and put on our books at the State and Federal levels.
    We would need no regulations if all the Businesses always did the right thing i.e. Exxon creates a spill in the Ocean through negligence, they admit to their fault and take appropriate actions to clean up and compensate without being forced to do so ( require policing and enforcement) or a Merck to admit that it has made a mistake that it knowingly suppressed evidence that shows it's drug could cause harmful side effects.
    Now if we had Businesses and thereby individuals living up to a certain set of decent code of conduct i.e doing the right thing then sure we would need less of everything and thereby persevere in our pursuit of Happiness and Liberty.
    Well Capitalism is just a Word describing a set of Values we humans adopt.
    Many of the readers and viewers of this show work for Corporations that constantly push products and services that we never need or want yet these same people are also concerned .
    RIGHT...
    GIVE ME a Break, you cant have it both ways.
    If we don't buy into this model then we have to speak out at our work and outside as well and be willing to deal with the consequences.
    Until then TALK WILL REMAIN CHEAP and the SPIN DOCTORS will continue to SPIN and we shall continue to Invest in Mutual Funds that are contradictory to what we discuss and write and talk about including the Highly Regarded Bill Moyers.

    Mr. Moyers:
    Thank you for your commentary on steroids and America. Never have I heard the issue put so clearly. So clearly that, I am afraid, some people won't get it. Unlike the radio jocks on both the right and the left, you didn't scream, you didn't use a lot of hyperbole, you simply laid out the problem and the resulting consequences.
    My question is, what can we do to recitfy the situation quickly. I don't see any viable candidate out there really addressing the prime issues of health care, unfair tax systems, war and the like. They seem (on both sides) to only play to the hot buttons of immigration, sexual orientation and religion. We are in a sorry state, I only hope we can fix it before it is too late.
    Bob Williams
    Pasadena California

    I enjoyed the conversation on capitalism and it's impact on democracy. I think that the main point to take from that is not an economic one but a societal one: passivity and superficial materialism has become more prevalent today. We're numb to the big issues and hyperfocused on bread and circuses.

    I believe Mr Barber placed the blame for our currency's collapse in exchange value on our consumer indebtedness. True, the fact that we borrow rather than save contributes to the dollar's decline. The major contributor is the military budget, which I did not hear mentioned at all. Maybe my attention lapsed!

    Ben Barber would do well to take a course in economics so that he may come to understand the princibles of capitalism and realize that all his arguments against it are absurd on their face. To begin with Ben states "Capitalism is no longer manufacturing goods to meet real needs and human wants. It's manufacturing needs to sell us all the goods it's got to produce.". Exactly how is capitalism manufacturing needs? if a need is a defeciency of a value essential to life then capitalism isn't the cause of it. People need to eat food to stay alive, the need therefore derives from the biological fact that are bodies are fueled by the vitamins and minerals contained within organic matter. The same princible holds true for all other needs ( our need for water, our need for clothing, our need for shelter). capitalism is only the name of a system of commerce whereby the goods required to satisfy human needs and wants may be fairly obtained by each individual. Mr. Barber is also wrong when he said "But part of the problem here is that the capitalist companies have figured out that the best way to do their job is to privatize profit, but socialize risk.". Ben fails to acknowledge that america isn't strictly capitalistic but rather is part socialist part capitalist (some might say more socialist than capitalist) and as such profits are socialized more than risk in the form of corporate income, investment and savings taxes and redristribution to entitlement programs. furthermore the practice of bailing out failing businesses is a product of socialist economic policy not free market capitalism. It is quite astonishing how Mr. Barber readily admits that the federal government is responsible for the decision to pump taxpayers money into failing industries and at the same time Barber assigns the blame to the private capitalists whose core belief is that the market has to be left to regulate itself and neither requires nor tolerates government intervention. Barber goes on to say "But we sell our sovereignty down the river by becoming a debtor nation. Becoming a nation which, in effect, lives beyond its means. Has to borrow from abroad. Has to sell its dollars cheap abroad in order to go on being a debtor nation. Go on being a consumer nation. These, again, are social and public consequences of private choice...". I feel it is important for me to once again point out that it is not private choice that caused the erosion of american sovereignty it is government that creates and funds programs that it can't afford and recklessly spends more money on Barbers much loved social programs than it recieves in tax revenues until the point when it is must sell off america piece by piece as treasury bonds to foreign nations just to keep the lights on in the senate.

    Dear Mr. Moyers,

    Hello and thank you for all your excellent programs in 07.

    Thanks for improving the video quality to full screen too.

    With best regards

    What food for thought!! While many of us might feel something amiss about our nation's sometimes exclusive fetish for consumerism, privatization and the religion of capitalism, one doesn't always hear those misgivings so well articulated. I suspect if one were to drive through any "downtown USA", their main streets would all look the same at night. You would see the same fast-food restaurants, retail chains, gas stations, etc. I think this is but one symptom -- albeit a superficial one -- of the deeper maladies Barber describes.

    I couldnt believe my ears when I saw this report come up. Finally, I have been vindicated. This ties into the whole weird feeling of what is currently taking place in the US, ie the immigration problem, the devaluation of currency, the glee on wall street as middle eastern and asian companies make cash infusions into our largest banks (effectively starting to buy our country at wholesale prices) It all fits. While we all continue to party, the ship is beginning to sink. IMHO, its time for Americans to actually learn second languages so they can move overseas, taking their entreprenureal skills and cash with them. Theres opportunities everywhere, but you have to "be on the ground" so to speak to recognize them. With the cheap labor available in many countries, and the low tax rates, (and business incentives in many central american countries) it seems an ideal place to take expertise and capital. Globalize entreprenurealism, which we in the US are experts at- By doing this, we would be joining a much larger party that is taking place at the expense of the dumbasses in the US that will continue to borrow and buy until the last day.

    China is already doing this, but they are doing it to us, and not really supplying things we need, but cheap version of things that wear out and require frequent re-purchase. That alone makes for a lot of extra trips to the store for every one of us.

    BARBER CLAIMS THAT CAPITALISM HAS UNDERMINED DEMOCRACY. WHO CHOSE CAPITALISM AS AN ECONOMIC SYSTEM IN THE UNITED STATES? MY GUESS IS THAT BARBER WOULD SAY THAT CAPITALISTS CHOSE CAPITALISM, NOT WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES.

    Concerning the comment, "Capitalism has put democracy in trouble, because capitalism has tried to persuade us that being a private consumer is enough. That a citizen is nothing more than a consumer", the following article asks:

    - ..Has the unbridled spread of commercialism and technology transformed us from small groups of active amateur participants to a large single mass of professional passive spectators and nonstop consumers?

    http://starbulletin.com/2007/06/03/editorial/commentary.html

    Primarily, my sincere thanks to you Mr. Moyer for your commitment to taking the path less traveled and to make it your life’s goal to undertake thought provoking subjects that reveal the truths we need to hear that we most often avoid.
    We would all agree that the market has a role to play but it has to be kept in its place, otherwise soon enough we will be serving it instead of it serving us.
    Mr. Barber’s arguments eloquently state how we have become the servants rather than the masters. Consumerism is literally killing us, The notion that he who dies with most toys wins has gotten hold of us so bad that if one agrees that our bodies are a reflection our minds, we are doomed. The statistics on obesity are literally scary. I am convinced that the state of thinking is just as concerning and Mr. Barbers ringing of the bell could not be timelier.

    Barber has directed our attention to the manipulation of the populace by those whose success is determined by the capitalistic system. But even more fundamental is the understanding that to manipulate the populace, in any way, it is necessary to understand its basic needs and fears. In this case, the baseline thinking is Materialism – the belief that happiness can be obtained through the possession of mater. It is Materialism that is the fundamental belief that Capitalism manipulates.

    It is true that, that as material beings, we need material support. But as long as we see ourselves entirely in this light, we will continue our pursuit of happiness through the consumption of matter beyond reason.

    This will only be turned around when people become aware of the alternative to the material. You can not succeed in replacing a delusion with mere rational thought.

    Barber has directed our attention to the manipulation of the populace by those whose success is determined by the capitalistic system. But even more fundamental is the understanding that to manipulate the populace, in any way, it is necessary to understand its basic needs and fears. In this case, the baseline thinking is Materialism – the belief that happiness can be obtained through the possession of mater. It is Materialism that is the fundamental belief that Capitalism manipulates.

    It is true that, that as material beings, we need material support. But as long as we see ourselves entirely in this light, we will continue our pursuit of happiness through the consumption of matter beyond reason.

    This will only be turned around when people become aware of the alternative to the material. You can not succeed in replacing a delusion with mere rational thought.

    "Consumed" declares the obvious, further deepens the gloom but fails to provide solutions beyond bromides: Resist, decry, worry and hope, no demand, that corporations spontaneously convert to producing needed commodities for the global community instead of manufacturing wants for bloated First World societies.

    It would be more enlightening to know, in specific numeric terms, what the complex consequence would be if constant growth was replaced by sustainable production.

    "Consumed" declares the obvious, further deepens the gloom but fails to provide solutions beyond bromides: Resist, decry, worry and hope, no demand, that corporations spontaneously convert to producing needed commodities for the global community instead of manufacturing wants for bloated First World societies.

    It would be more enlightening to know, in specific numeric terms, what the complex consequence would be if constant growth was replaced by sustainable production.

    Nobody but PBS, Bill Moyers in particular, will take on such weighty, yet under the radar, issues. Many thanks for the thoughtful program and great interviews.
    Coincidentally, just this past week I was railing about this subject. To me, there's something even more insidious than corporations "creating demand" , rather than satisfying an existing demand. A most recent phenomenon in American capitalism/consumerism, is forced obsolescence. Through monopoly power, corporations now seem to arbitrarily render working systems obsolete, without offering any substantial improvement. As a Realtor, I have experienced just this with our keysafe security provider, Supra, which was purchased by none other than GE about 4 years ago. Since then they've forced we Realtors to retire our old, but (IMHO) in many ways better than the replacement systems, with the new system. We are charged many more fees for the use of these than we used to have for access to listed homes. But, alas, I seem to be one of the only ones that cares about such things.
    What I find even more disturbing, although this might make PBS a bit uncomfortable, is the government mandated changeover to digital and HDTV by 2009. Frankly, I don't know anyone who has been complaining that their picture just hasn't been clear enough on their TV screen. Yet, the government actually, as an advocate for forced obsolescence and big businees, is forcing this new technology on the whole country. What's with that?
    Seemingly, such things do not offer enough increased benefit for consumers to end up demanding them. So, the lazy corporations create a product that probably can't stand on its own merits. The large corporations don't even have to create demand by spending advertising dollars anymore. They merely have to influence their servants in Congress, to pass legislation that forcibly creates demand.
    I'd heard recently that there was some editorial, I believe that it was in the Washington Post, in which the writer opined that the American economy would pick up if Americans would just work a little harder to boost productivity. He was implying, and perhaps even said, that Americans were just too lazy.
    Forced obsolescence is a sign of lazy and/or ineffective corporations, who can't identify, supply, nor create a real need/demand. They just force their product on a captive market. Now that's lazy.

    excellent as the program was--and it truly was--i await something else. what? organizations with a program that asks individuals to DO something to combat the downward slide in american society.

    Very thoughtful interview. I reached for a notebook and wrote this down, "In America we privatize profit but socialize risk." It's the first time I've heard our situation described this way. I'd like to hear more about this because it is interesting to realize that America is unwilling to "socialize" risks for healthcare but we are very willing to socialize risks for investors and for financial managers who make poor decisions. I also liked Barber's example of wealth in Los Angeles being able to purchase choice by selecting cars from a range of models but not being able to choose efficient transportation instead of spending hours in traffic. Good points.

    What is the answer to resolving this issue? Another economic depression?

    Respectfully,

    Thomas F. Strang catmouse98239@yahoo.com

    Does Barber really stretch the banal observation that people buy stuff they don't need into a whole book? Does he anywhere establish this as a unique or necessary feature of Capitalism? Does he demonstrate a basic understanding of Capitalism by, for instance, contrasting it with Socialism? Where's the rigor? Where's the beef?

    I could not agree more! I've often wondered why, after hearing yet another drab explanation of the importance of consumerism as an indicator of the "health?" of our economy, that noted, repected economists don't shout with one voice, "This is nuts!" Neither individuals, families, nor indeed our nation can continue to live "better" today by borrowing from tomorrow. To think that retailers bank so much of their annual "success" on Christmas seasonal purchasing by folks who are already in debt up to their collective eyeballs is totally insane. We need more straight talk from Barber and others like him who are not afraid to buck the more popular "devil-may-care" attitudes and call reckless consumerism what it really is--a SHAM!

    As individuals--or a nation of individuals--if we are debtors we are not free.

    this segment reminded me of a statement made by Richard Rohr. He mentioned that the devil was not always the devil. The devil was an angel who fell from grace. capitalism as it was birthed had the qualities of paying tribute to people for needs met by people. Whether there is a true devil or not in the biblical sense can be debated but without a doubt capitalism is a devil in every sense of the name and history of this creature.
    thank you bill and thank you ben. I am learning, please keep teaching.

    . We cope with fear with too much system worship. It distracts us from the simple nature of personal freedom. Further exaggerated by a false sense of economic freedom disguised as a way of life held up by the virtues of commodity and lots of choices. We need not fight for our rights if we truly believe they are for all. We must embrace existence as a method of our choosing. Abandon the system we've bought and realize that no one is watching. No one is going to take away our self-determinism. No entity can really control us. Adjusting and embracing change is uncomfortable. But as we falsely fight for our rights what we are being used for is a scheme to hopelessly resist change. And that struggle is the maintenance of the status quo. That is what throws the revolt in our faces. This gives the system's deterioration a sense of nobility. This gives the divine edge to their entitlement and makes their piracy admirable. We brand ourselves so that we can serve without perceiving ourselves as servants. But we are serving a display. A unified dimension disguised behind the many colors of difference. Just colors. Just not understanding that we are all related. An impression of realism in the perimeter on consciousness is what shapes our ideologies. And what colors them? Our impression is our ideology and it drives us. How you look at it is how you are. And it is because of this thing we want. This instant. We want it and we want it now. What about the first part of sentience? The wait and see what happens. The observation. We want to understand so quickly, so quickly at unease. So it is right there at the point of observance and the wanting to understand so as not to wait and see what happens. That is what makes all that is political work against us instead of for us. Ancient wisdom that first thing that makes us human, sentient, observant is confused by sounds, flashing lights, and finally colors. The bird shot scattering through the initiation of esoteric. We bow down to what we hear put simply and we buy it. We now serve it. All over the world we can buy it and we are then inside, and just because we want to understand. Wait and see. It is our ancient way out. The irony is there in the coincidence where we observe that it must be a plan or a plot, but no... Wait and see that it is only folly. So there it is. The worst sell in history working so well. But all of our minds are really part of the same system. We are just made to hallucinate. Fictions are seen on screens as history's record. Shot like a lawyer in the face and chest the single capsule of the self projected, scattered by the psychic ignition of the fragmented dialectic - the babble, nonsense flickering and helping us to understand that these two simplest versions political are digested. So the capsule forgets to wait and see.

    I really enjoyed the Barber interview. I've been thinking along the same lines for awhile, but of course, I haven't been able to put my ideas together in such an articulate way. The interview helped me solidify my own thoughts about capitalism, that we have to actually manufacture things as a nation, we can't just consume useless goods. I used to be in retail, and every retailer I knew was looking for the next "pet rock" they could sell, something really cheap that they could mark up for a huge profit. That's no way to ensure the future of capitalism. We have to start making good products that serve a need--the water purifying straw was a good example of filling a need and making a good profit over the long term, instead of just a quick buck off one useless item. Great interview, and good food for thought.

    It seems to me a common phenomena for all successful societies is their success is their bane. I do not think we are any different. Our free trading, wealth acquiring, self regualtion has become our poison. We live way beyond our means and create dependencies which we cannot sustain. It is hopeful to view such programs as Mr. Moyers and here guest's observations similar to my own.
    KH

    Wonder if the first dozen people one meets know that Supreme Court justices are appointed for life. Wonder if they know why some retire when they do.

    I appreciated Barber's comments regarding the fact that we have, as a society, given up citizenship for consumerism. We have mistaken momentary pleasure for a deeper and more sustaining happiness. The "me-ism" in consumerism leaves no room for "us", and certainly no room for 'any of them'. And that is truly sad - the great experiment of American citizen-democracy is falling to our own selfish greed.

    It is interesting about the first part of you show relating to Consumerism degrading Democracy and the later part of the show addressing the problems with our Constitutional government. They could have been tied together if you would have refer to Noam Chomsky's Jaunary 2004 interview which he said: "It has often been pointed out by political scientists that the US is basically a one-party state -- the business party. with two factions, Democrats and Republicans". ".... there is a significant task ahead to create a more democratic culture, in which elections are far more meaningful and there is also meaningful ongoing political participation by the general population.

    More serious political scientists in the mainstream describe the US not as a "democracy" but as a "polyarchy": a system of elite decision and periodic public ratification. There is surely much truth to the conclusion of the leading American social philosopher of the 20th century, John Dewey, whose main work was on democracy, that until there is democratic control of the primary economic institutions, politics will be "the shadow cast on society by big business."

    I couldn't agree more with Barber and have been saying the same things for years. Among a collection of quatrains I penned from the perspective of a fairly long life is the following:

    Caveat Emptor

    The ads all scream the same bold lie:
    “Save money here by spending –
    And if you lack the funds to buy,
    Just see our folks in Lending!”

    Once again Mr. Moyers thank you for a thought provoking hour.

    Mr Barber pointed out a couple of issues that I wold like to restate. One is that capitalism is a growing monster without a conscience. Isolation is not just hiding in your home or cardboard box. It is being on the cell phone on a public bus. It is shopping constantly to 'refreshen your image' or to redefine it. People have lost the ability to tell the difference between 'needs and wants'

    I forget the country (Duvi?) that wanted to 'buy into our intrastructure' and the public freaked. Now they lend 10B to a bank and no one cares? I know I don't have a good memory so I could be more specific or correct but I am not and never have been confused on what material things do to a person, family, city, state, country. It pinches our souls to the point of selfishness and obsession that is more frightening to me than when I lived in a state hospital.

    'there but for the grace of God go I'

    Global corporations and their investors for fear of loosing a profitable christmas season following the 9/11/01 attacks, used the President Bush as the ultimate Macy's Santa Claus to literally order US citizens to get out, shop and spend money, as if consumerism will strengthen our democracy and resolve, I believe this only makes us week and mindless sheep, which can not live without next cheapest gadget from China. We as people should save more, live within our means and educate our children to do the same, starting with this Christmas season. Barber is a voice of reason in this I must have that useless gadget now, mentality.

    and soujourner, you don't hear a ring of truth in the idea that we today ignore the social contract? we get a pass and get to blame all our ills on "someone else"?
    i think he was trying to hold a mirror up to how we are complicit in our own downfall.
    what corporations do is one thing, but barber was also talking about the rest of us -- you, me, and the other guys on the street -- who pay scant attention to what is good for us, do not act in concert in ways that benefit our society, and feed into the consumerist, negative system that corporate globalism encourages us to take part in -- buy their stuff, buy their stuff, buy their stuff. the thing of it is, even if the US economy tanks, the people a the top of this corporate economy have their booty socked away off shore. they'll be able to ride out the rough spots somewhere elsem or behind their walls, with their paid cops. we down here in the trenches, who have abandoned most all semblance of any social contract necessary to have a country that is an actual nation (instead of just a location on the map) -- WE are going to have a tough time of it if this country's environment and economy go down the tubes.
    we can blame the guys who are holding the reins, but we're the ones who keep letting ourselves get roped and bridled. mr. barber made a lot of sense to me.

    I am in complete agreement with Barber and I ave two thoughts in regards to his appearance.
    First; housing that can with stand hurricanes already exsist and they were designed by Buckminister Fuller. I have often wonder why there has not be a revival of his designes, such as a shower that uses a 10th of the water current showers use and that is far more efficient. Also his toilet design from the Dymaxium (sp?) house.
    Second; back in 1968 Dick Gregory ran for President. One of his platforms was instead of sending money to third world countries, we open a factory to manufacture shovels, wheel barrows, etc., of the things they need.
    Just think, a factory opens in Afganistan that manufactures Geodesic domes for housing. People are hired in the community who manufacture first their own homes, and then homes for the general population. Does that not seem to be a far more logical plan to rebuild Afganistan rather than shipping billions that will be siphoned off by corruptions leaving little to actually help people we are supposing to help?
    Happy Holidays.

    i'm pretty sure i don't have a clue what re mant is talking about. if you're still out there, could you explain why you're ranting about liberal this and liberal that? what is "liberal capitalism" and why do you think we have it?

    I was sorely disappointed by Barber. I felt like I was back listening to an SDS pep talk in the 60s. Consumption is merely a sop disguising the driving force in a changing time.

    Global corporations and investors behave as always has been the case when old structures are dissolving. They become pirates, loyal only to their gang and rootless.

    It is more evident because the US electorate chose a pirate and his first mate to run the nation currently. They trashed carefully and painfully achieved international treaties. They scorn world opinion. They are lawless.

    Please bring us some commentary on the economic lawlessness of offshore corporations who fund global disorder. Pirates are romantic only in Hollywood films. In economic life, they lead to suicide, making law-abiding citizens walk the plank.


    All my elderly widow neighbors and and I agree completely with RE Mant's comments preceding mine. Thanks for a superb NOW program this evenng!

    Awesome interviews and commentary tonight. This was one of the most insightful programs I've ever come across and I appreciate the intelligence and guts of those who participated and hosted. Truly genius on all sides. Thanks, I feel like I can breathe again as an American.

    QUOTE FROM WILL ROGERS: TOO MANY PEOPLE SPEND MONEY THEY HAVEN'T EARNED TO BUY THINGS THEY DON'T WANT TO IMPRESS PEOPLE THEY DON'T LIKE I WOULD GUESS THAT THIS IS A COROLLARY TO MR BARBER'S THESIS

    QUOTE FROM WILL ROGERS: TOO MANY PEOPLE SPEND MONEY THEY HAVEN'T EARNED TO BUY THINGS THEY DON'T WANT TO IMPRESS PEOPLE THEY DON'T LIKE I WOULD GUESS THAT THIS IS A COROLLARY TO MR BARBER'S THESIS

    Excellent analysis, but Barber I think misses the true horror of the Liberal capitalism we see today, which is that since it operates by a desire for approval instilled in Liberal child-rearing (which was seen as far back as the 18th c), it ends up as a system where ppl are entirely absorbed in measuring success by love measured in exchange. This has nothing to do with science, engineering or production, which require self-reliance and self-respect. The Lonely Crowd noticed this 50 years ago to some extent, but it should be much clearer now to anyone who was brought up when things were in large measure different. As Tocqueville put it, democrats seek equality rather than liberty. They are envious rather than jealous. Ironically despite the desperate search for connection Liberal society grows evermore impersonal too, as Bowling Alone documented a few years ago, but Tocqueville also foresaw, just as he foresaw the development of a new kind of democratic monarchy. This is all quite different from the old imperialism argument which reflects rather the shortcomings of mercantilism: over-production and under-consumption. As we have seen this past week, but also in the collapse of Japan a decade ago, and in our own Depression, over-production ultimately fails since those countries which have a trade surplus must invest somewhere if they are to realize any of their gains, and while this poses a danger to our sovereignty, the greater danger by far is to have no sense of sovereignty in the world at all.

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