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The Consumer Society

Overview Essay

by Kevin Gallagher

By 1990, 34 percent of people in developing countries were living in cities where daily exposure to global products through television, radio and billboards was inescapable. Even in rural areas of the Philippines any city of over 20,000 will have at least one "supermarket," usually a one-room affair about the size of an old New Hampshire general store. In the fishing and rice-farming town of Balanga, Bataan, the San Jose supermarket offers Philip Morris's Tang and Cheez Whiz, Procter and Gamble's Pringles potato chips, Hormel's Spam, Hershey's Kisses, RJR Nabisco's Chips Ahoy, Del Monte's tomato juice, Planter's Cheez Curls, and Colgate-Palmolive's toothpaste. Above the cash register is a large poster celebrating "Sweet Land of Liberty" with a picture of the American Flag.

While globalization and consumerism are important trends, each with its own wealth of literature, there has been little academic attention given to the interaction of the two phenomena. The articles summarized in this section represent the frontier of the small but emerging literature that address these issues together. They suggest that the interrelationships between globalization and consumerism have a profound impact on consumer behavior and development. The myth of the autonomous consumer with exogenously determined tastes and preferences, a staple of economic theory which has been criticized in this volume, is even less appropriate in the global context.

Globalization, Inequality, and Consumerism.

In the industrialized world it is difficult to get through a day without hearing about the trend toward globalization. Rarely does a year go by without world leaders signing yet another major trade pact that opens global markets to easy entry by the world's corporations. We have recently witnessed the strengthening of the common market in Europe with the Maastricht Treaty.

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