Sustainable Consumerism?

During Britain’s ascendancy to a global superpower, businessmen — aided by the state — imported raw materials from afar, manufactured commodities, and resold them abroad. This is the traditional understanding of Britain’s trade policy during the Industrial Revolution. For instance, industry leaders imported cotton from America and India, manufactured textiles and resold these goods around the world.

America, Britain’s successor is doing the opposite. American businesses acquire raw sources from areas around the world, just like their British counterparts, but unlike their predecessor, American businesses manufacture their goods outside the country. In fact, America is a market — an important market — yet it’s simply a market non-the-less.

This global trade strategy is inundated with humanitarian and economic problems. Workers for Nike and other companies, overseas face unsafe working conditions, long hours, and little pay. American entrepreneurs invest in industries overseas because of cheap labor and property, and local tax incentives. The economic problem, from a capitalist point of view, is that reverse colonialism is unsustainable — not just from an environmental perspective, but also from the perspective of supply and demand.

America’s economy is service oriented. With the switch from an industrial to a service economy, labor unions lost power and workers are poorly represented. Wages in a service economy are less than those in an industrial economy — unless that industrial economy is located overseas. America, for business owners, is the predominant market because Americans (on average) are relatively wealthier than those in the Global South. But American wages and salaries are declining; thereby weakening America’s spending and wages in the Global South are not creating a new consumer society to replace America.

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