Powerlessness and Consumerism

There is perhaps no better metric of class in America than personal power–what is known as agency: the power to influence or transform one’s circumstances in a a self-directed manner. Those with agency have power, those without agency (or very limited agency) are essentially powerless.

The more capital you have, the greater your power to influence or change your circumstances. The less capital one has, the less power one has to influence the world around us. This is why money equals power: cash enables the purchase of all sorts of extensions of agency: transport, education, assistance, expertise and so on.

But cash isn’t the only form of capital that can be drawn upon to generate agency: credit is almost as good as cash, if one can borrow the money at near-zero rates of interest. The intellectual/social capital implicit in entrepreneurial agency is not financial, but it empowers those who possess it in ways that cash or credit alone cannot.

If we add these tangible and intangible forms of capital up, we get a taxonomy of agency/power: those with little capital or credit, and little intellectual/social capital to draw upon for agency are powerless in an economy and society where everything has a price and everything is for sale to the highest bidder.

Those with financial capital, access to low-cost credit and reserves of intellectual/social capital that can be transformed into entrepreneurial agency have economic agency.

This taxonomy explains why those who are financially impoverished but rich in entrepreneurial values, skills and social connections are not powerless, despite being poor. For those with economic agency, opportunities abound–especially in new fields that have not yet been locked down by monopolies, such as blockchain technologies.

This taxonomy helps explain why so much of the middle class is a few paychecks away from dropping out of the middle class: those with access to credit enabled by paid work, but little reserves of the sort of intellectual/social capital required to tap the opportunities in the emerging economy, find their agency vanishes once they lose their job and the access to credit it enabled.

The difficulty many now face is the skills that were once a form of valuable intellectual capital have been depreciated by software/AI, automation and globalization’s vast labor pool. The market value of any one particular skill is contingent and thus vulnerable to technological advances or changes in the supply and demand of that skill.

The entrepreneurial/social forms of capital that I describe in my book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy are broader and more flexible; these are the higher-level forms of capital that enable an individual to learn a new skill and develop a new set of connections (social capital) as circumstances change.

Individuals with little economic or political agency are offered one default form of agency: consumerism. If one has enough cash or credit to become a customer, this agency of consumption is experienced as a form of power, even if the sum available to spend is small.

This is one of the attractions of dollar stores; the low prices enable those with little money to experience the agency of consumption: $5 enables the consumer to select five items to buy, and this power to choose is like an oasis of agency in a desert of economic and political powerlessness.

Even $1 is enough to become a customer, which in a consumer-based economy manifests a specific commercial-transaction type of power: the clerk must endeavor to meet the customer’s requests and treat every customer with a respect they might not receive outside a consumer-customer setting.

No wonder consuming/buying is so intoxicating/addictive: it is a readily accessible manifestation of agency in an economy in which true economic agency is scarce. Experiencing one’s relative powerlessness is intrinsically debilitating, and so we naturally seek some experience of agency, however modest and fleeting.

The downside of consumerism is two-fold: consuming as a manifestation of agency is inherently superficial; the “high” of selecting and buying stuff is fleeting, and the churn of consumption–one must constantly be shopping and buying to maintain the sense of agency–reduces the capital available to pursue true economic agency.

The other downside is this superficial and fleeting consumerist agency fuels alandfill economy in which low-quality goods are purchased on credit for the brief “high” and then discarded in the landfill shortly thereafter, freeing up space for the purchase of more stuff: Our Landfill Economy.

Eventually, individuals with little real economic agency run out of credit, and their ability to consume more collapses. The “solution” to this inevitable decline in creditworthiness is 0% financing and similar financial gimmickry that extends and pretends the illusion of endless credit-based consumption.

Meanwhile, the planet is being stripmined to fabricate and transport all the stuff that’s purchased and dumped in the Landfill Economy.

Consumerism is a simulacrum of real economic agency. It’s a psychological balm for political and economic powerlessness, but it is no substitute for the ownership of capital that enables true economic agency.

If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.

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  • ZARTAN

    Again … The Solution to: ALL PROBLEMS, is on Wall Street.

    Yes, the POOR masses living on Credit with “Negative or Petty” Net Worth are Worthless. However, they do not completely understand that there are Hundreds-of-Millions of them. Their Numbers are the Real Agency on Planet Earth.

    You only need to put 1-MILLION “of those without Agency” on Wall Street and they go from Poor to ALMIGHTY, instantly.

    And, do not even Start that GIMPISH “PEACE CRAP,” because as US tax payers “YOU ALL SUPPORT RUTHLESS MASS MURDER AND EXTERMINATION ALL OVER THE GLOBE.”

    BE WISE, NOT FOOLISH .

    THERE IS NO “GREATER FOOL,” THAN ONE WHO GOES BEFORE WARMONGERS SEEKING PEACE!

    Take my Advice, because it is WORTH ITS WEIGHT IN GOLD.

    Take Control of Wall Street,( by Million Man Protest) and the NYSE, and the POOR become RICH with AGENCY over all Earth. Dont believe me? Christians … Read Revelation 18, and Learn that GOD has to Deal with WALL STREET, only, He does not believe in the PEACE GIMP!

    • ICFubar

      Zartan, You are correct in pointing out the source of the problem which is Wall Street and a debt money system that seeks to enslave everyone through debt and then take possession of everyone’s property through foreclosure or other means related to paying off a universally un-repayable debt and interest on that debt through inflation and ever rising taxation let alone wage stagnation.

      The only solution I can see is to quit playing Their game of always wanting more. This in order to find peace of mind and find the real joy in life which is found in the ‘agency’ of serving one another by doing the things we love to do instead of chasing $ in the illusion that $ will make us happy with what they will buy us while simultaneously increasing the pile of debt (as all money and credit is really debt) everyone can never pay off.

      As an aside it could be that the Sovereignty Movement has found a loop hole in exiting Their Matrix by correcting one’s ‘status’ in regards the contractual nature of Universal Commercial Code which are all the statutes we are compelled to obey when contracting with that system in order to receive the ‘benefits’ offered as inducement to contract. This without realizing the ‘costs’ (each ‘person’s’ share of the overall universal debt) far out weigh any benefits. Whether this movement holds any legal water I really can’t say but I have read the FBI considers this movement one of the most dangerous groups in America today. The trick apparently is to get the proper paperwork done and filed to withdraw from being a ‘citizen’ and becoming a ‘sovereign’ entity which is the ‘living’ true person we all are. Interesting concept if it holds up in real life.

      • ZARTAN

        Quitting the Game takes: “Great Discipline;” because everyone you know will hate you for it. Nobody will want to associate with you, because you do not have any Material Debt. Misery loves Company. And, make no mistake, these people (Most Americans) are Completely Miserable! I can see through their Masks. Then, there is Christams, Birthdays, and KIDS … which makes people SLAVES, becasuse they have to do it for the Kids! This is all Folly and produces Generational Slaves.

        Now, uniting people to “stop paying tax” would be a valid way to stop all this wickedness, ( and get control of Government) but that is such a Massive Undertaking that I doubt even GOD, Himself, could achieve it? You would need 10s-to-a-Hundred MILLION Materialistic Americans, or more, to suddenly become: GHANDI. IF, the CHURCH would cooperate, ( FAT CHANCE) “and I do not care what people think about Religion because this is all a numbers game;” HOWEVER, it could be done, quickly, and in fine order.

        You have a good Idea; but I am also uncertain “myself” about how much the government is already printing and buying its own wares? I like to JOKE, if there was a NUCLEAR WAR, the DOW would still be BREAKING ALL TIME HIGHS! SO, my biggest economical fear is that TAX is nothing but PUNITIVE BS to Abuse the Sheep. I know the US government has unlimited authority to credit, print and buy its own products. This is why I advocate “Shutting it all DOWN and Forcing them into Compliance.”

        In conclusion, it is good to hear from a “FELLOW PRISONER” who has his head screwed on right. I am refereshed by such and it gives me hope.

        Thank-you, for your post.

  • animalogic

    Ok, this article seems to make sense: people engage in a faux-agency of consumerism. But … isn’t this material we knew back in the 60’s ?
    And then there are these kind of … questionable comments: “Consumerism is a simulacrum of real economic agency. It’s a psychological balm for political and economic powerlessness, but it is no substitute for the ownership of capital that enables true economic agency.” Again, I guess, factually OK. But… why say it ? Is the author suggesting what ?… that we all need “capital” to have “true” economic agency ?
    Ah, but, no —
    “The entrepreneurial/social forms of capital that I describe in my book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy are broader and more flexible; these are the higher-level forms of capital that enable an individual to learn a new skill and develop a new set of connections (social capital) as circumstances change.”
    Wow ! — Unfortunately, I haven’t read the book, but I shall run out & buy it — so I may also partake of, & obtain “entrepreneurial/social forms of capital” & get me some “SKILLS, SKILLS, SKILLS !”

    • ZARTAN

      SKILLS, SKILLS, SKILLS … SO, YOU CAN BE A SLAVE, SLAVE, SLAVE!!!

      I spent $65,000., trying to BUILD SKILLS … and, if I could, I would take it all back ( and spend it on WOMEN AND BOOZE), because I got ROBBED. SLSC charged me 100-percent Interest, now, is that something you do to Citizens? Hell, I would not even do that to the DEVIL. So, America, what is your Problem with Education? Nobpdy can afford an Education Just to Get a JOB, ( if you think about it, it`s stupid) that does not pay. And, think, they do this to Children: kinda gives a new twist on Child Molestation!

      Wall Street Controls all Business, and everyone, “bases wages” on Corporate DEATH WAGE. So, Gettng Skills is not AGENCY, nor will it help you do “anything,” except live on Credit with Zero Savings. I know. Getting a JOB and Building Skill is a Lie from Cowards, who look for an Excuse to hide the Unpleasant reality; because they are too afraid to do anything about it so they blame the individual.

      Always blame the Individual, never the System. This from people who think they are Peaceful, but voluntarily “pay and suppport” the most violent government ( their rep, their name) that ever existed on the planet.

      Yes, and GET SKILLS … SO, America can go out and GET SLAVES to bring here on H1-B and steal your SLAVE JOB! Brilliant! Then, you can repay SLSC without a JOB! You know, if I hear anymore of these SKILLS people … I might Get VIOLENT!

      • animalogic

        I can only hope your circumstances improve, Zartan, you & many others deserve better.

        • ZARTAN

          Thank-You, Friend. I wish you well too! We all need better Circumstances! WE all Deserve Better. Hopefully, it comes soon.

      • Nexusfast123

        That is the modus operandi of the system – to divide and blame the individual.

    • Robert Bruce

      You wrote the book, but didn’t read it!!!!!!!!!! Hahahahaha!!!!!!! Classic!!!!!!!

    • Robert Bruce

      Thing is those skills that are in demand are being met by cheaper labor coming from SE Asia, so even the acquiring of skills might not get you squat. Yeah networking is a great skill in of itself, so that is a good thing, and a great point you make.

  • diogenes

    Even better than credit is a license to counterfeit by issuing stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments of mass pillage.

    • Hollyweoff


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