Monday, January 17, 2011

religion versus consumerism - state usefulness

This article was inspired by some observations about the 'shopping experience' and it's ability to turn off critical thinking.

This is not an anti-John Lewis article, they merely provide the example, and a handy term 'Johnlewisitis' which I introduce.


Where an individual is so overwhelmed by the lovely shopping experience, that they switch off all critical thinking about shopping choices.

The above condition (does it really exist?) is usually short lived and rarely fatal.

(Patients who are near the tipping point of debt versus income, should however visit a financial adviser, especially if first encounter is around christmas, when resistance to infection is usually lowered.)

  • Electrical items are suddenly new and brilliant. They don't just have TV sets, they have *TV sets*, etc.
  • MyPreviousShop* has become a dirty word, even though the products that it sells are just as good as they were when you favoured them last year.
  • Having words written on a 'nice' display gives them more power, and just makes them more believable. 
  • If John Lewis do not stock it, it cannot be any good.
Please replace *MyPreviousShop with wherever you used to shop last year, before the recent change.

The last point is the worst example of a suspension of critical thinking. John Lewis are a 'premium' shop. By premium, I do not mean to suggest that what they stock is necessarily always the best quality.
The shop is 'premium' in that it stocks only 'high margin' goods. If the markup is not 'premium', then it will not get through the door.

On a personal level, when I visit a high street, it is to exercise choice amongst a range of goods and retailers. My desire is not to have a corporate buyer filter that choice and effectively shrink the high street to just a single shop.

In order to make the next point, I introduce a little known fact.
Electrical retailers in the UK in final quarter 2010 and first quarter 2011 have televisions which are halfHD
Where the screen can do full 1080p, but the inbuilt receiver cannot decode HD television channels.

How can I tell if my freeview TV is halfHD? If it does not have a logo with the words "Freeview HD" in that order, then it cannot decode BBC HD or ITV HD channels.

Admittedly the term halfHD is a bit harsh if your TV is used mainly as an output for gaming consoles, or bluray player, which probably will make use of the extra on screen pixels you paid for by buying a 'HD' set.

Returning to the Electrical Retailers and their position...a shop full of TV technology which was engineered before the demand for BBC HD and ITV HD was significant.

So what to do? Well those TV sets cannot be just thrown in a skip, they have to be sold.
Solution: Be a bit coy about the new fangled 'Freeview HD' thing, at least until we have cleared the old stock (by April 2011), then we can wheel in giant mansized displays for the new 'Freeview HD' branding, and sell loads more stuff.

Here is an extract from the John Lewis website today entitled
"So where does this leave me":
So the term HD Ready concerns the abilities of your TV to display high-definition pictures, as opposed to receiving HD transmissions.
Now to be fair that article (John Lewis magazine/online) entitled "Instant expert - HD & Freeview update" is a fair representation of the current situation by my quick skim reading.

I am not a John Lewis shopper, so have no idea whether the magazine is available near the TV sales area, you might know more.

Consumerism and why it will not go away:

  • It has entered language (a fair sign that it will be around for a while)
    "Retail therapy" anyone?
  • Popular fiction books are written about it
  • Fiscal policy depends upon it.
This last point is the kicker really. Western governments have become more and more focused on 'the housing market' and 'the high street' as drivers of their economy.
When a government moves away from focusing on manufacturing/services/exports to such an extent, then there is something seriously wrong.
Was the global economic crisis caused by this lack of attention on manufacturing/services/exports, in favour of, what in the end, turned almost into a Ponzi scheme?

My feeling is that the housing market did end up becoming a Ponzi Scheme, as the inflationary pressure that was allowed to build, could only be sustained by a constant stream of 'new entrants'.
However rises in cost of living generally, and the long overdue limits on personal debt, depleted this pool of 'new entrants'

Personal debt, admittedly, was a problem in it's own right. However western governments were loath to address it as sales tax/vat receipts would fall if consumer spending was discouraged.

At one point 'the housing market' and 'the high street' took on almost mystical properties, as if those factors were some Jet Stream without which the business climate would fail.

One of the benefits of the rebalancing of property prices and the temporary reigning in of high street overindulgence, has been that governments (Ireland and UK included) have refocused back on the real long term economic drivers.

This does not mean that consumerism has been detached from Fiscal policy, far from it.
Whilst sales tax/VAT provide a useful tool to boost treasury receipts, governments will happily watch consumerism on it's way.

In short it is useful to the state.

Although I am not religious, I do appreciate living in a country that allows multiple religions, and here is why.

When a state mandates a religion, and furthermore bans other religions, then that religion will almost certainly become politicised by the state.

A politicised religion is something that I have never experienced thankfully, but I do think it would be a powerful force, which, as a youngster I would have been very challenged to resist.

I have little problem resisting Consumerism in it's present form. It does involve 'regular rejection' of Consumerist messages, a task made easier by staying away from TV adverts where practical.

Links, Notes, and Further reading:
One of the challenges for the newly partitioned Sudan will be that suddenly each 'half' will have just one main religion.
How can these newly partitioned states be secular? when there is (i) religion (ii) only one religion (iii) strong intertwining of religion and law

Just in case of a joker comment, let me state that 'Consumerism is not the answer'

How can you talk about consumerism and include adverts in your post? Those adverts are relevant to the subject and break up the text somewhat. In other posts I tend to use screenshots to break up large chunks of text, but this is a different sort of post.

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