Term Paper: Conspicuous Consumption the Relationship

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[. . .] .. Anything which pleases the senses, and is also costly, or difficult to obtain; an expensive rarity; as, silks, jewels, and rare fruits are luxuries" (Dictionary) Indeed, luxury can take on many different forms. In prosperous nations, luxury often consists of nice cars, brand name clothing, houses and expensive jewellery. In less developed countries luxury might consist of having clean water or toilet paper. For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on luxury as it is defined in nations that are more prosperous.

The obsession with luxury has caused many problems in nations around the world. Many consumers are in a great deal of debt because they have chosen to purchase luxury products that they cannot afford. In some extreme cases, people have been killed for their luxury products such as expensive shoes, cars and expensive clothing. It is evident that societies desire to have extravagant possessions had led to less than positive outcomes.

With all this being understood, we can conclude that luxuries are simply those things that are nice to have but do not necessitate human survival. We can also conclude that the most prosperous the nation the more luxuries become necessities. Now that we have a better understanding of what constitutes luxury, let us discuss the definition of necessities.

According to Webster's dictionary a necessity is "A thing that is necessary or indispensable to some purpose; something that one can not do without; a requisite; an essential; -- used chiefly in the plural; as, the necessaries of life." (Dictionary) When one thinks of necessities the words food, water, and shelter come to mind. In addition to these necessities, some would argue that people also need love, acceptance and affirmation. All these things are essential to the physical and mental well-being of any human.

As we mentioned earlier, some of the things that were once thought of as luxuries are now considered necessities. This situation occurs for reasons other than greed and the desire to "show off." Science and education have contributed to our understanding that some things are necessary and can ensure that we live healthier lives with fewer diseases. For instance, there was a time when doctors did not wash their hands after delivering babies and as a result many women died during childbirth. Once scientist figured out that not washing hands between deliveries was contributing to these deaths, washing the hands became a necessity. Likewise, there are people in developing countries that do not have clean water and the dirty water that they use contains bacteria and causes all kinds of diseases and even death. Therefore, from this we understand that just having water is not good enough we must have clean water -- clean water is a necessity.

In most societies, education is also a necessity. This is certainly true in Westernized countries such as Taiwan. If an individual wants to be able to purchase food and shelter, they must have an education so that they can work to provide such things. Even in third world countries an individual has to know how to do something to make a living.

Indeed, there are things that are necessary for survival, but name brand clothes are not one of them. The purpose of a necessity is not to make an individual look good or relate to peers -- but to sustain life.

Necessities are anything that allows you to live healthfully in both mind and body.

With all this being understood we can conclude that while luxuries and necessities are two different things, they can often become intertwined. Luxuries are products that are costly and are often used to display ones wealth and opulence. On the other hand, we found that necessities are those things that allow us to live.

2.1.2 Modern Consumer Society of Luxury

Nations around the world have adapted an attitude of luxury. Nowhere is this more evident than in Westernized countries including Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan. For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on the modern consumer society of luxury as it relates to Taiwan. A discussion of this type must begin with an explanation of the Taiwanese economy the "Economic Miracle" that occurred in the country.

A book entitled "Contemporary Taiwan" explains that Taiwan's economic performance from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s is regarded as that of an archetypal Asian Newly Industrializing Economy (ANIE). It achieved rapid growth, marked structural change and an exceptional export performance. During the 1980s, however, important changes in the pattern of growth and associated policy challenges became evident. These changes partly reflected the internal evolution of the economy as it began to exhaust both its labour intensive comparative advantage and also, arguably, some of the benefits of the regulated and protective institutional structure that underlay early economic successes. This internal evolution coincided with two important external changes. One was the unfolding development of the PRC under the policies of economic reform and the open door." (Shambaugh 1998)

The book goes on to explain that the rapid economic growth of the country gave way to an increase in luxury spending. In addition, technological advances made certain products such as cell phones readily available. In addition, more Western businesses begin to set up shop in Taiwan. The influx of Westerners and their clothing brands along with an influx of new types of music and movies created an environment that was ripe for conspicuous consumption.

The rapidly growing economy also seemed to erode some of the traditional values of the Taiwanese culture. Eventually this erosion led to an increase in conspicuous consumption. The book asserts that the increase in wealth created a class struggle that still exists today. The book explains,

With the phenomenal expansion of the middle class and its attendant "bourgeois" mentality, Taiwan is not likely to witness class struggle as defined in Maoist terms. Still, the widening of the actual and perceived gaps between rich and poor seems inevitable and the conspicuous consumption of the nouveaux riches has already led to a great deal of jealousy and frustration, or "red-eye disease" (hongyanbing), as a new socio-pathological concept in Taiwan. The perception that undisciplined democratization has cheapened the political process and that electoral behaviour has been corrupted by money and violence further enhances the general impression that, despite the rhetoric that "sovereignty resides in the people," power and influence are in the hands of the few." (Shambaugh1998)

The impact of a rapidly growing economy and increases in education has had an impact on the conspicuous consumption of generation Y Generation Y's parents are more affluent than previous generations and therefore there is more disposable income. In addition, many generation Yers are now entering the workforce. These individuals are college educated and making significant incomes and have money to spend.

2.2.1 Meanings of Conspicuous Consumption

Consumption becomes a process of displaying pecuniary status and command over resources; it becomes a competitive process, each family seeing which can spend, or seem to spend, more money. The appearance of frugality, of saving, of economy is to be avoided; conspicuous consumption and "honorific" waste are the order of the day." (Kyrk 1923)

The term Conspicuous consumption was first used by Veblen in his book Conspicuous consumption is thought to be a man made phenomenon that has always existed in some form. Many assert that human beings have an inherent need to be seen and to have more possessions than the people around them do. A book entitled The Economics of Consumption: Economics of Decision Making in the Household, asserts that many individuals simply consume products "for the sake of display." (Bell et al.) The book defines conspicuous consumption as the consumption of goods and services on a grand scale for the purpose of demonstrating pecuniary power rather than that of providing utility through use. The very essence of conspicuous consumption is waste; utility is produced for the consumer through extravagance and waste rather than use." (Bell et al.)

The book also contends that the ideology behind conspicuous consumption has its roots in primitive tribes. (Bell et al.) The authors explain that primitive tribes would practice certain forms of consumption as a means of proving their superiority over other tribes. For instance, only the individuals that were successful hunters or triumphant in battle were allowed to have certain luxuries. (Bell et al.) The luxuries included the best foods, the prettiest feathers and the best skins. (Bell et al.)

The book also argues that conspicuous consumption is universal but varies in degree from place to place and from generation to generation. The authors assert that conspicuous consumption is a characteristic that is present at every income level. (Bell et al.) The book explains that conspicuous consumption is often tied to the appearances of one's family. (Bell et al.) The book argues that the wife of a businessman is more than just a wife and is often a sign of the amount of affluence that an individual or family has. (Bell… [END OF PREVIEW]

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