Fascinating story in The Scotsman today about an interesting problem facing the luxury-goods industry: namely, that the hoi polloi are purchasing their products in bulk.
Of course, as The Scotsman's Edward Black notes, there are other problems facing the industry: war, recession and currency fluctuations. But he makes a pretty interesting point: that the fashion industry has diluted its brands to the point where they are no longer exclusive. One can hence infer -- although Mr Black does not give this as much space as I would have liked -- that this dilution is leading to decreased sales, losses, and general economic woes.
It really is fascinating stuff, at least to me. That's not only because it deals with the issue of economics, it deals with the issue of materialism in Western society.
Now the economics issue is pretty cut-and-dried. To me, the fashion houses should have either raised their prices significantly, thus kneeling to the immutable laws of supply and demand; or introduced even more exclusive goods to protect their brands. Rather, as Mr Black's story notes, they increased supply to meet the increased demand, with immediate profit as the result. They are now reaping the whirlwind of that policy.
What's more interesting to me, though, is this issue of materialism and its acute effects on modern society. Certainly materialism has always been a force in life; but it has never taken hold of us as people like it has now.
It makes sense when you think about it, in a way, for at no time in human history has mankind enjoyed such prosperity. Further, during the Sixties and Seventies, society saw fit to devalue time-honored institutions: the traditional family, respect for God, civic activities, and so on. So it is no surprise that we now live in a world where it is quite acceptable for a man's fidiuciary self-interest to reign paramount over his duties and obligations to his family, his church, and his nation.
I will admit that we can't squarely put the blame on the disasterous social policies of the Sixties and Seventies, even if they did do so much to exacerbate things. In the Fifties, when American society first became prosperous as a whole, there was certainly a new emphasis placed on materialism. Indeed, one could probably go back to 1848 and find its roots. Still, I think, there is no denying that the excessive pursuit of status, possessions and wealth is a pox on our national house -- now more than ever. How else can one explain the all-inclusive veneration of wealth in all facets of our society, whether in pop music or sales brochures or in executive-compensation packages? This was not something you saw in the Forties and Fifties.
I should note, though, that the key word there is excessive. "Money is the root of all evil," goes the old saying, but that's crap. Evil is the root of all evil.*
Money, if used wisely and properly, is a good thing. Goods and services can certainly be good things: it all depends on why you want them. If you resolve tomorrow morning that you really want a BMW 7 Series automobile, and you want it because you would love driving it, there's nothing wrong with that. If you really want that BMW 7 Series because it means you can show it off at the club and enrage Simmons in the cubicle three down from yours, that's when you enter a real hornet's nest spiritually and temporally.
Temporally -- Gad. Where can one begin?
Material things don't make people happy, but too many people think they will. Lusting after said material things, and not getting them, makes people unhappy and resentful.
Lusting after said material things and getting them makes one happy for the moment, but makes others quite unhappy if one is arrogant or a show-off. When the happiness wears off, one is not only unhappy again, but one finds it more difficult to get a raise at the office because the boss sees the new BMW one is driving.
Then, in three years you trade the car in anyway and you have nothing to show for it because you bought a highly-depreciable asset. This leads you on a quest for more wealth, because you not only need a new car, there are now looming college tuition payments for the kids and the retirement you haven't adequately saved for and so on. The lessons here? Spend less, save more, income is not wealth, the only good debt is house- and education-related: all things that any financial planner can tell you.
But there are greater dangers. Spiritually, of course, there is the matter of one's own soul. Avarice, as Dante noted, was the appetite that can never be satiated and grows as you feed it. That cycle continues until it consumes one's being. As if that wasn't bad enough, avarice sparks deeper sins: envy, for one. And envy, at least in the world-view of we here at The Rant, leads to pride, the worst sin of all. It gets worse, too, because you're not just ruining yourself; you're helping corrupt others who aren't as blessed in this life as you are. I would submit that this matter is the gravest of all.
Related: Lileks on Anthony Burgess, and Burgess' views about the teachings of St. Augustine and Pelagius. If you haven't read this Bleat installment, you must. It will not only give you a new appreciation for Mr Burgess' writing, but a right-thinking perspective on the human dynamic.
* Full disclosure: I have to think someone figured that out long before I did; so if you've seen it and know a citation, let me know.Posted by Benjamin Kepple at July 12, 2003 06:59 PM | TrackBack