Visions of an Alternative
by Neva R. Goodwin
The articles summarized in this section assume that
the values of the consumer society are far from
ideal -- they are values whose impact should be
much reduced if society is to change in ways that
these authors (and, by and large, the editors of
this volume) see as desirable.
value shift is likely to have an effect on a society
that is at least as great as the most transformative
material changes. Truly fundamental value shifts
occur rarely, and in modern times they have normally
coincided, as both cause and effect, with a concatenation
of changes in technical possibilities, basic resource
availabilities and/or social relations. One such
shift was the validation of self-interest in the
late eighteenth century, supported by the productive
possibilities of increased division of labor and
new mechanical inventions, and confirmed by the
development of economic theory. This was primarily
a shift in the mind set of producers and in the
attitudes taken toward producers. It still rested
upon a comfortable assumption of religious and moral
foundations, of the sort that permitted Adam Smith
to write about "The Wealth of Nations"
in a context of such "Moral Sentiments"
as the self-respect that depends upon viewing oneself
as a decent and honorable person.
In the ensuing
two centuries of industrialization a shift to the
values of consumerism was enabled and necessitated
by the productive revolution. Again self-interest
was validated and even exalted, this time on the
demand side, by the convergent messages of commercial
advertising and neoclassical consumer theory. These
forces have combined (with, of course, the commercial
sector having a far greater weight than the voice
of theory) to preach a powerfully attractive lesson.
Neoclassical economics methodologically supports
its assumption of "consumer sovereignty"
by defining social welfare in terms of preferences
revealed by purchasing decisions. This is the theoretical
sanction for the commercial message that the prime
human motivator not only is but should be the gratification
of any and all personal desires.