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The Affluent Society Revisited$
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Mike Berry

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199686506

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199686506.001.0001

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The Dethroned Consumer

The Dethroned Consumer

(p.86) 7 The Dethroned Consumer
The Affluent Society Revisited

Mike Berry

Oxford University Press

The doctrine of consumer sovereignty held that the wants and needs of people were both insatiable in total and independently determined, analytical givens with which the economist and policy maker must deal. Galbraith dismisses this starting point, arguing that modern capitalism turns on the systematic manufacture of consumer wants by producers utilizing the powerful tools of persuasion provided by advertising – calling this process ‘the dependence effect’. This delivers the final defence of the paramount position of production, since insatiable wants require unlimited production to satisfy them. The chapter argues that Galbraith raised important issues here but that recent developments, both technological and cultural, have in part, reversed the dependence effect; in particular, the rise of social media, internet shopping and the celebrity culture has changed the nature of consumption and the analysis of the ends of economic activity. Recent work by economists and psychologists on the nature and significance of ‘happiness’ take the debate initiated by Galbraith in new and interesting directions.

Keywords:   consumption, dependence effect, advertising, consumer sovereignty, positional goods, brands, celebrity, internet, social media, happiness

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