The malady of 'overconsumption'
What are the discontents of modernity? In fact, there are many to mention about. "People do not die from moderate eating rather overeating" -- a popular aphorism from Bangladesh village indicates an ongoing latent crisis of "commodity invasion" predominantly in the urban life. The acceleration of urban dwellers is satisfactory and threatening simultaneously, from 33.6 per cent in 1960 to 54.4 per cent in 2017. The wealthy urban community is purchasing greater amount of goods for their comfort, and purchasing further more to alleviate their rapaciousness.
Need or greed:
Basic human needs are considered as food, accommodation, healthcare, clothing and education. In the age of ultimate development, human security and education has been added with these five.
Individual need usually changes grounding on several social and economic factors like income, economic atmosphere in macro level, individual purchasing power and willingness, product price and availability, etc. Total consumption capacity of an individual is limited, but overconsumption has no bound.
When the basic needs are fulfilled, people with plenty of money go for optional goods to please his irrational desire, the "hunger of eyes". These products are most often luxury commodities. The factor stimulates the overconsumption instinct is "hyper-need", the intense and superfluous want of commodities.
"Hyper-need" is a neologism as a concept. It has been said the human need (better to pronounce 'desire') is insatiable, but the extreme proneness to satisfy needs and intense fascination of commodity can be addressed as hyper-need.
Moneyed class people in a society are usually profligate and spend abundant wealth on comfort products. Presently, it seems the demarcation line between the consumption pattern of upper class and middle class is begun to blur.
Sense of prestige, style, comfort, desire and other factors are enflaming hyper-neediness, and collapsing the boundary between economic groups exists in a particular society. Product often closely related to identity as people do not buy product, they buy identity: lavish car is a status of opulence; fancy clothing bespeaks the person's royalty.
Stimulants of overconsumption:
Previous nature of consumption and need has also been changed and 'pseudo-need' is on the rise. What was an elective goods in 1990's become essential in 2010's. 20 per cent American said a second car was a 'necessity' in 1973; by the year of 1996, the figure had risen to 37 per cent.
Product manufacturer companies are investing more money on advertising to lure the target audiences and potential buyers, and competing with rival companies to ensure more profits. Like other countries, advertising industry is booming, the total investment in this sector was 12 billion taka, doubled in next two years as 24 billion taka in 2016.
Everyday consumers as audience are bombarded with thousands of advertisements in different forms, shapes, messages and colours, in billboard, television, radio, newspaper and internet. Such allurement is nourishing hyper-need among consumers and leading to the path of over-consumption.
Economics of 'busy-ness':
The Economist predicts why people nowadays have 'no leisure' and why people are always in a rush to the work even without spending adequate time with family. In pursuit of surplus income to mitigate their hyper-need for expensive and luxurious commodities, people tend to go for overtime in trade of their precious leisure.
To satisfy the hyper-need, people always feel they need more money because they have not enough; thus, an ill-trap, a vicious cycle of 'busy-ness', hyper-need and overconsumption has been created that exploits individuals. This miserable phenomenon, coined by Richard Easterlin, is called "hedonic treadmill".
Changes in purchasing power:
Two largest sectors of overconsumption and extravagance across the globe are thought to be food and fashion. The opulent community of any society seems prodigal in spending money on luxury goods. Rapid industrialization and economic uplift is happening in Bangladesh from the last two decades and the expansion of Bengali middle class ("a person belongs to the middle-class category when his/her income ranges between USD 2 and USD 3 per day.") community, from 20 per cent in 2016 to estimated 33 per cent in 2030, is a prime reason behind such economic development.
Middle class income level is booming so do the need as well as purchasing power. In 2015, Bangladesh had 11 million people who were "middle and affluent consumers" (MAC) with increasing income; and the number is rising at a remarkable pace.
The climate is not endangered only by the growing population which is usually promulgated by popular environment advocates. According to UN data 2017, the population growth rate has been declining (almost halved) for the last 50 years, and women's fertility rate reduced from 4.96 in 1955 to 2.51 in 2017.
Rather the earth's climate is transforming heavily because of two undeniable reasons: overproduction and overconsumption of commodities that requires the exhaustion of environmental resources in radical manner, and the wastes produced from used goods those are not environment friendly.
In Bangladesh, the urban population is increasing at 3 per cent every year. The top five annual household consumption sectors are: food, housing, energy and clothing, respectively 55.10 per cent, 9.88 per cent, 5.95 per cent and 5.25 per cent (World Bank, 2010).
Two harms that overconsumption creates in individual level are: affluenza and obesity. Affluenza (a portmanteau of 'affluence' and 'influenza') is a negative mental state, what Thomas H Naylor said is: "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dodged pursuit of more".
Bangladesh is experiencing an explosion of junk food restaurants everywhere in urban areas considering its ongoing popularity among food-lovers. Thus, a growing number of people are getting affected by obesity and overweight because of consuming excessive and unhealthy junk foods. Obesity is the ultimate source of other dreadful diseases like several types of cancer, depression etc.
Waste and environment:
The more people consume goods, the more waste is produced. These wastes pollute environment in a thousand of ways. Consumption without disposal solution of waste or proper waste management cause environmental harm.
The indecomposable and harmful wastes are polluting the fundamental environmental elements: air, soil, water and sound in a disastrous manner. Sea water pollution is threatening sea creatures and becoming prime concern for the developed countries in contemporary times.
Around 22.4 million tons waste is generated every year in Bangladesh though most of them has no proper the disposal, and cities like Dhaka has only 37 per cent waste collection rate. Overconsumption means over extraction of energy to produce more commodities to content over necessity, thus the limited resource of world's energy, those are not reproducible, is depleted gradually.
Myth of progress:
Even in near past, human need was limited, people were seemed rational in their expenditures. Things have been changing extremely from the second half of the previous century and the world's inhabitants are becoming exceedingly consumerists, somehow started contaminating the earth for the sake of economic progress and paramount felicity.
The modern dogma of 'comfy life' is, in fact, expediting the demise of human capability. The gigantic development will be a failure if the nature ousts us from its benevolent nest.
Sayeed Ovi is a freelance contributor