Fashionable Watches



For most of history, the overwhelming majority of the Earth’s inhabitants have owned, more or less, nothing. The clothes they stood up in, some bowls, a pot and a pan, perhaps a broom and, if things were going really well, a few farming implements. Nations and peoples remained consistently poor. Global GDP did not grow at all from year to year: the world was an aggregate as hard up in 1800 as it had been at the beginning of time. However, starting in the early 18th century, in the countries of north-western Europe, a remarkable phenomenon occurred. Economies began to expand and wages to rise. Families who’d never before had any money beyond what they needed just to survive found they could go shopping for small luxuries: a comb or a mirror, a spare set of underwear, a pillow, some thicker boots or a towel. Their expenditure created a virtuous economic cycle. The more they spent, the more business grew, the more wages rose. By the middle of the 18th century, observers recognised that they were living through a period of epochal change that historians have since described as the world’s first consumer revolution. It was in Britain where the changes were most marked: enormous new industries sprang up to cater for the widespread demand for goods that had once been the preserve of the very rich alone. In England’s cities you could buy furniture from Chip ‘n’ Dale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton pottery from Wedgewood and Derby,
cutlery from the smitheries of Sheffield and hats, shoes and dressed featured in the best selling magazines like
The Gallery of Fashion and The Ladies Magazine. Styles for clothes and hair which had formerly gone unchanged for decades now altered every year often in extremely theatrical and impractical directions. In the early 1770s, there was a craze for decorating wigs so tall that their tops could only be accessed by standing on a chair. It was fun for the cartoonists. So vivid and numerous were the consumer novelties that the austere Dr. Johnsons Riley wondered whether prisoners were also soon to be hanged in a new way. The Christian Church looked on and did not approve. Up and down England, clergymen delivered bitter sermons against the new materialism. They called it vanity, which was a sin.
Sons and daughters ought to be kept away from shops God would not look kindly on those who paid more attention to household decoration than the state of their souls. But there now emerged an intellectual revolution that sharply altered the understanding of the role of vanity in an economy. In 1723, a London physician called Bernand Mandeville published an economic tract titled “The Fable of the Bees” which proposed that contrary to centuries of religious and moral thinking, what made countries rich and therefore safe, honest, generous, spirited and strong was a very minor, unelevated and apparently undignified activity: shopping for pleasure. It was the consumption of what Mandeville called fripperies: hats, bonnets, gloves, butter dishes, soup tureens, shoehorns and hair clips that provided the engine for national prosperity and allowed the government to do in practice what the church only knew how to sermonise about in theory: make a genuine difference to the lives of the weak and the poor. The only way to generate wealth, argued Mandeville, was to ensure high demand for absurd and unnecessary things. Of course no one needed embroidered handbags, silk lined slippers or ice creams but it was a blessing that they could be prompted by fashion to want them, for on the back of demand for such trifles, workshops could be built, apprentices trained and hospitals funded. Mandeville shocked the audience with the starkness of the choice he placed before them: a nation could either be very high-minded, spiritually elevated, intelectually refined and dirt poor or a slave to luxury and idle consumption and very rich. Mandeville’s dark thesis went on to convince almost all great Anglophone economists and political thinkers of the 18th century. There were, nevertheless, some occasional departures from the new economic orthodoxy. One of the most spirited and impassioned voices was that of Switzerland’s greatest philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau. Shocked by the impact of the consumer revolution on the manners and atmosphere of his native Geneva, he called for a return to a simpler, older way of life. of the sort he had experienced in the alpine villages or read about in the travellers’ accounts of the native tribes of North America. In the remote corners of Appenzell or the vast forests of Missouri there was, blessedly, no concern for fashion and no one upmanship around hair extensions. Rousseau recommended closing Geneva’s borders and imposing crippling taxes on luxury goods so that people’s energy could be redirected towards non-material values. He looked back with fondness to the austere, martial spirit of Sparta. However, even if Rousseau disagreed with Mandeville, he did not seek to deny the basic premise behind his analysis. It truly appeared to be a choice between decadent consumption and wealth on one hand and virtuous restraint and poverty on the other. It was simply that Rousseau, unusually, preffered virtue to wealth. The parameters of this debate have continued to dominate the economic thinking ever since. We re-encounter them in ideological arguments between capitalists and communists and free marketeers and environmentalists. But for most of us, the debate is no longer pertinent: we simlply accept that we will live in consumer economies, with some very unfortunate side effects to them: crass advertising, foodstuffs that are unhealthy for us, products that are disconnected from any reasonable assessment of our needs. All this in exchange for economic growth and high employment.
We have chosen wealth over virtue. an irony laden acceptance of this dichotomy is what underpins the approach of many pop artists in mid 20th century America. For example, Claes Oldenburg developed a reputation for taking modern consumer items, many of them food related and reproducing them at enormous scale, usually in outdoor settings in vibrant polyester vinyl. In city squares, where one once might have expected to find statues in honour of political leaders or religious saints, one now came across outside hamburgers, giant cheesecakes, fries decked with ketchup or perhaps Oldenburg’s most famous work a 12 meter high stainless steel, inverted ice cream cone. Oldenburg’s vast versions of small things playfully directed our attention to the peculiar dependence of modern economies on the mass consumption of what are, in human terms, some deeply negligible products. Yet the scale of Oldenburg’s objects was only superficially absurd. because it rather precisely reflected their actual importance in our collective economic destinies. Nevertheless, as Oldenburg seemed to concede, it was peculiar to be living in a civilisation founded on the back of buns and sweetened tomato paste, a benthos hinted at by the deflated appearance of many of the giant burgers, hotdogs and pizzas. The one question that’s rarely been asked is whether there might be a way to attenuate the dispiriting choice, to draw on the best aspects of consumerism on one hand and high-mindedness on the other, without suffering their worst sides: moral decadence and profound poverty. Might it be possible for a society to develop that allows for consumers spending and therefore provides employment and welfare yet of a kind directed at something other than vanities and superfluities? Might we shop for something other than nonsense? In other words, might we have wealth and a degree of virtue?
It is this possibility of which we find some intriguing hints in the work of Adam Smith an 18th century economist, too often read as a blunt apologist for all aspects of consumerism. but in fact, one of its more subtle and visionary analysts. In his book The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, Adam Smith seems at points willing to concede to key aspects of Mandeville’s argument: consumer societies do help the poor by providing employment based around satisfying what are often rather sub-optimal purchases.
Smith was as ready as other economists to mock the triviality of some consumer choices while admiring their consequences. All those embroidered lace handkerchiefs, jewel snuff boxes and miniature temples made of cream for dessert they were flippant, he conceded, but they encouraged trade, created employment and generated immense wealth and could be therefore firmly defended on this score alone. However, Smith held out some fascinating hopes for the future.
He pointed out that consumption didn’t invariably have to involve the trading of frivolous things. He had seen the expansion of the Edinburgh book trade and knew how large a market higher education might become. He understood how much wealth was being accumulated through the construction of the Edinburgh’s extremely handsome and noble New Town He understood that humans have many higher needs that require a lot of labour, intelligence and work to fulfill but they lie outside of capitalist enterprise as conceived off by realists like Bernard Mandeville. Among these are need for education, for self understanding, for beautiful cities and for rewarding social lives. The ultimate goal of capitalism, in Adam Smith’s view, was to tackle happiness in all its complexities psychological and not just merely material. The capitalism of our times still hasn’t entirely come around to resolving the awkward choices that Bernard Mandeville and Jean Jacques Rousseau circled. But the crucial hope for the future is that we may not forever need to be making money off rather exploititive, silly or vain consumer appetites. That we may also learn to generate enormous profits from helping people as consumers and producers in the truly important and ambitious aspects of their lives.
The reform of capitalism hinges on an odd sounding but critical task: a new kind of consumerism. The conception of an economy focused around buying and selling services and goods focused on our higher needs.

Reader Comments

  1. Consumerism: the other income tax. Here is why.

  2. In this idealization of consumerism they seem to forget that poverty didn´t disapeared in the XVII. century, instead 70% of the population is only in control of the 3% of the global richness (., The cake has grown bigger but just for a few. When there wasn´t that many things, the distribution of richness and so, power to make changes in the society, was much more distributed. Nowadays we probably are poorer than we´ve been in all our history, we just live surrounded by things that are about to become rubbish… Consumerism is an illness that is killing our planet and is making us addicts. WE REALLY NEED TO LEARN TO CONSUME PROPERLY!!!!

  3. At begining of video ad poped up. Comercial for new laptop. What an irony! Shit i just bought this one couple of months ago. Now i must sell it!

  4. The attempt to achieve a kind of contentment of the Population with capitalism I consider a complete fraud! From the very beginning, people have always tried to provide the population with more and more rights and privileges instead of creating a fair distribution or system!

  5. The environmental consequences of consumerism are kind of glossed over here. All this stuff is coming from somewhere, nevermind the psychological rat race of adapting to a new set of pleasurable circumstances and then wanting more. We assume that having more stuff has made us (the 'modern world') happier but everyone knows in practice that this is not true and the rich are often some of the most miserable folks around. After 70k a year we experience no more gains in subjective well being. Virtue is learning to be happy with what you have and who you are.

  6. Wow, such disregard for all the other cultures that contributed to a better way of life before 18th century europeans copied it or improved/marketed it from the chinese,arabs and indians to the rest of the world. The people of this internet age need to come out of this cheeky westernised propaganda of how grateful v need to b of the west. Human progress is not a forte of just one particular civilization.

  7. In general, the idea of consumerism is ok. BUT, what is NOT OK, and my biggest issue with consumerism, is that we don't have a proper disposal system and, even worse – consumerism is of course responsible for mass exploitation and destruction to people and environments. If we could figure out a way to create without the consequences, that would be great!

  8. Fuck consumerism! I’ll say “FUCK YOU!!” to salesmen/merchants who force me to spend over thousands of dollars. I HATE PEOPLE WHO LIVES BY RIPPING OFF FROM OTHER PEOPLE! One day I will spend 1% of my income and salary. I want to live by earning more and spending less. Spending too much money drives me crazy. It’s my new pet hate. I give someone a fucking ?for asking me to pay too much for 1 product. I’ll also say fuck you to millionaires/billionaires who sacrifice all of their wealth. I look down against the poor (as in people who live in poverty or homeless). Someday there will be a war between rich and poor. FUCK SHOPPING! I only buy whatever I need to survive.

  9. Our higher needs are simple and not excessively material though: Food, shelter, clothing and connection. That's where the black and white of it all rests and I'm not sure a compromise exists. Consumerism for the sake of economy isn't a good enough reason to lose spiritual wealth, which is our baseline of existence.

  10. Great video. I currently have two jobs that are opposite ends of spectrum and this echoed throughout my mind and had me thinking at every point!

  11. Your description of the economic circle of life is incorrect. Cheaper methods of production came first.

  12. you ignore the most important argument about over consumerism, and that is it's collective, cumulative, damage to earth and all her inhabitants.
    frivilous products create toxic mountains of garbage for no reason other than human greed and boredom.
    and there doesn't need to be "wealth" or "poverty" if everyone is compensated equally for their contribution to the greater whole, no matter the form it takes.
    there are better things people could be doing, better jobs that could be had, fulfilling the needs of every being on earth rather than creating products no one needs that destroy it.

  13. If your country falls in socialism all the resources and money will go to the effort to continue spreading socialism over the world, and you and your family will meet misery

  14. Is the meaning of life to suffer? So when you do find peace and piece of mind you can maybe enjoy it? Life, what is it really? Why do I exist?

  15. …give the relative his right, and [also] the poor and the traveler, and do not spend wastefully.
    Indeed, the wasteful are brothers of the devils, and ever has Satan been to his Lord ungrateful.
    And do not make your hand [as] chained to your neck or extend it completely and [thereby] become blamed and insolvent
    Indeed, your Lord extends provision for whom He wills and restricts [it]. Indeed He is ever, concerning His servants, Acquainted and Seeing.
    And do not walk upon the earth exultantly. Indeed, you will never tear the earth [apart], and you will never reach the mountains in height.That is from what your Lord has revealed to you…
    [Quran 17:29]

  16. Should economies and their well being be based so heavily on this kind of market though? It seems to be a problem in my mind, that it is now a moral obligation to support businesses whose products are unnecessary for daily life. There is a lot of "filler" in the economy that helps it grow, yet the heavy investment into that takes us away from much needed progress. To some extent, I argue that businesses are trying to manipulate politics to making the country more receptive to this kind of market instead of reaching a more idealized society or nation. When people are willing to pay thousands of dollars for nothing more than brand identity on a article of clothing that offers the same function as a cheap equivalent, there is definitely something wrong.

  17. Consumer education and a culture which would admire higher needs and one based on God, would change what the market produces. The consumer is king and if people don't want frivalous items then businesses won't have the incentive to sell these frivalous products. But the question remains: how are we to educate the consumer and make a culture based on God and on higher needs? Men are manipulativeand desire to be better off because of self-interest. Greed is part of human nature

  18. It's nice to hope for the future, but the commodification of virtue resulted from consumerism and capitalism. We consume trendy values of inclusivity and equality but are we really supporting meaningful changes, or acting virtuously, by simply adding filters to our profile pictures when the West suffers acts of violence? While we have unprecedented access to resources to deepen our knowledge, disinformation abounds. And doing a deep dive into philosophical thought or the systemic causes of major global issues is way more difficult than watching a 5 minute summary on youtube and making a 3-liner status. Pseudo-intellectualism is another challenge born from that problem.

    Inevitably, it's free to hope. I hope the vanity that underpins the mere consumption of values will lead to a pursuit of knowledge in time- and I hope that time in the future comes before the threats of climate change and authoritarianism are irreversible.

  19. I think the video points at some very important topics, as far as consumerism working to meet and grow our higher human needs and providing services to help each other grow, as is happening today, what with the explosion of the Self Help industry, Success Coaches and Motivational Speakers like Dr. Eric Thomas, Les Brown, Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, etc. Oh, and Denis Waitley. Awesome bro. The beginning of the video did fall short a bit in that it focused on the dawn of consumerism mainly from a Eurocentric point of view. Other great nations have had much wealth and consumerism. One nation that comes to mind is the one lead by King Mansa Musa. Dude had gold in droves and ran a very powerful nation that also had developed consumerism. Then invaders came and did what they usually do. Something that stands out is the propping up of society on the backs of purchasing goods that are merely for vanities sake. Do such purchases really benefit society in the long run? Will buying A Prada bag really benefit the hospitals? Maybe I should watch this video again, as it was packed with a lot of information. A dichotomy that I disagree with, much like Smith, was the idea of being noble and thus poor versus rich and henceforth unscrupulous. I think that a nation can be built on a God or faith driven culture AND be rich as well. It's a culture context and in many was religion was used to keep some people in certain mindsets that were not necessarily garnering of wealth #Hegemony. I think a sound society has people who are strong financially, morally, physically, familial-ly (?) and so forth. That's what I think. Great job on the video! I would hope in the future though that they could be a bit more rounded, culturally, since the dawn of life/civilization wasn't in Europe and many cultures have scintillating tales of development. Though I would then have to postulate (no offense intended) that you, the makers of this video don't come from a multicultural background, hence the Eurocentrism, which is actually natural since we humans tend to care about that which resembles us the most #ethnocentrism. No worries, just saying my piece. Since I am a genetic composite of most main groups on this planet, I see things from a ‘rounded view point’. Centrism being kinda like a situation where a man could never really understand a day in the life of a woman, unless he was one for a day, and after being one for a day and seeing what it’s like on the “front lines”, cat calls, groping, stares, suggestive remarks, etc. then he’d be like WTF! #Womenarepeopletoo. In the end though, good video. It showed me a good light at the end of the consumerism tunnel. Keep up the good work, Cheers.

    P.S. This video really got me thinking…feels like the good old days back in Uni. Thank you.

  20. Interesting. Well I guess I should just bite the bullet and finally sign up for Brilliant, thanks.

  21. What about the fact that the biggest brands and businesses in the world use unfair brainwashing and psychological tactics to get you to consume what you don't need!

    Thereby growing rich off your hard earned money in exchange for crap. Crippling your mental and physical health.

    And besides that, consumerism forces you to live how the CEO's want, not how you actually deserve to. The CEO determines your working conditions and salary. But they are greedy people of bad character… your fate will be grim.

  22. Dear #TheSchoolofLife people … thank you very very very much for all that you do and please give me a way of repaying you somehow on the level of my modest skils for all this knowledge that you bring into our lifes. I appreciate your videos and your good intentions enormously!

  23. If you were brought up poor, as I was in Europe, then make do and mend and frugalism rule your outlook. Shopping for pleasure, or shop till you drop were out of the question
    when your mother sold old shoes in England to put food on the table. Consumerism has cost many people dearly.

  24. I was part of the counterculture back in the 1960s. The 'Hippies' , we called ourselves. Sure, go back to the land. Fewer material things.

    But that didn't work out well. It's a simple stress free life—but hard. Give me the internet era…Money may not make you happy; but povertyWILL make you miserable

  25. How about Eduard Bernays, Freud's nephew and the more modern ramifications of consumerism? I wish you'd do something on Bernays.

  26. it already exist…the gulf states.. Kuwait… SaudiArabia…UAE..
    they get a basic allowance have jobs zero interest home loans…free education…

  27. interesting video, but should have focused more on ecological impacts of consumerism and the fact that resources are finite

  28. Global GDP didn't grow? That's why invaders migrated to civilized and rich regions like Middle East, North Africa, India and South America.

  29. The first part of this video isn't entirely true… Africans were seriously wealthy in the years before colonialism. When Europe was going through dark ages and a renaissance, Africans were thriving. Lots of videos on this platform on this

  30. God this fucking channel is literally the best thing ever

    Edit: it bugs me how people are complaining how this video should've been handled it was done extremely well giving just enough and not too much information…. stop bringing politics into the discussion it's a step backwards

  31. The idea of generating wealth on higher needs is the worst aspect of Capitalism! That's why in some countries education is a business and students have huge loan, health is a business as well and if you can't afford it you die, access to knowledge is not free, editing companies are destroying science by forcing scientists to pay to publish and pay to have access to publications… Universities spend an enormous amount of their budget to pay the cost to access journals, money that could go into science but no, it goes to Elsevier & co.!
    Consumerism should be about futile things. Adam Smith's idea was the probably one of the false great idea of all time!
    "Consumerism is materialistic?"
    "Hold my Beer!"
    *end up making Education, Health, Science, Art, Environmental protection… a fucking business to make money out of it and ruin it!
    Higher needs should not be used to make money!

  32. Modern day we went off the rails at 1:10. You need to keep spending to get returns, but literally trillions in wealth, generated by the workers, has been shot to the top 1% in the form of stocks and banking manipulations and just due to a small number of rich people having less need to buy things than a large number of poor people. They take our money and sit on it where it gains interests and no one gets anything until some CEO wants to take a 3 week cruise on his 100 mil yacht or some world leader needs to pay off a hooker, or the whole government decides to take a summer long recess with lobbyist money. I mean its pretty obvious in the states but it happens to degrees everywhere and is getting exponentially worse. People need to take their wealth and put it in a transparent and protected public trust which has no bias, and it must never be raided but industry. We the people, in essence the government itself no matter how blind, must control industry. If industry continues to control us we are doomed.

  33. Havent bought clothes, shoes, and etc all this yr. Have more than one enough of them for yrs to come. Im only buyin whatever food Im gonna eat in the following week. Consumerism has gotten out of control and its harmin our planet and wallet.

  34. I usually really enjoy School of Life videos but the ideas here make me uncomfortable. I think there is a danger in commodifying art and education because it necessarily involves limiting access to these higher needs. In fact, we can observe that in our current society, most commercialisation of art hinges on artificial scarcity, particularly with regards to recorded media. Also, take for example these very YouTube videos: paradoxically the only way to monetise them is through advertisements (which are in great part for material products). I think we're all better off as a society if the satisfaction of higher needs is universal. After all, a more educated and thoughtful society will make better democratic decisions which will affect everyone.

  35. way to completely ignore the very relevant critiques of capitalism. this amounts to propaganda with weak autocritique as a smokescreen.

  36. Despicable BS. Self serving garbage. Revisionist crap. Who funds this nonsense? Almost a minute from the end before you casually mention 'money'? and never greed? Reassuring fantasy to keep the masses shopping. Just what we need.

  37. I was expecting the usual "OMG consumerism is sooo evil," but this was surprisingly even handed. You only need to look at China to see the market can take a country from poverty to world power.

  38. And 200 yrs later it has ended in bankrupt countries, banks, Corporations and the vast majority of the public enslaved in debt, massive amounts of imaginary money being printed to hide the fall of the entire system, manipulation of the stock markets by the printers of worthless currency issued by bankrupt central banks in the name of bankrupt nations, Yea Awesome. This is why for thousands of yrs we avoided the Jew's system of interest/usury.

  39. Capitalism runs endlessly in a world of finite resources to acquire for various purposes, some for need and some for want. The only sustainability is the manipulation of civilization to consume and produce less. We are egocentric and have too many desires.

  40. This is not a thorough video at all.. it portrays this influx of wealth as if everyone was benefitting so much from it, without mentioning the increase in inequality, use of slave labour and abuse of third world countries, terrible conditions for the workers that were making these new products, a lot of whom would never be able to own the stuff they were making anyway.
    Also completely misses out the environmental point of view, just vaguely hints at it with pictures of green peace and piles of rubbish.
    No mention of the complete impossibility of eternal economic growth on a finite planet, and the environmental impact we are seeing due to this lifestyle and economic system.
    Also the suggestion that people have always been "poor" and then we all became "rich" is very subjective; for some individuals "impoverished" farm life was probably far better than working long hours in dangerous factories.
    I really feel this video is singing the praises of consumerism while missing out all of the most potent issues with it.

  41. How did the few convince the many to trade their much needed goods and services, like food production, textile and clothes making, building things like homes, bridges and carriages to transport everything for their small stones or metal discs while they sat on their duffs ordering everyone's lives? Why would a village agree to have the farmers trade their food for metal discs, have the clothes makers trade their clothes for metal discs, have those building homes, water works, roads trade for metal discs that do not feed, shelter or do anything at all for human life or society/community needs? These givers of these metal discs do nothing but write numbers in columns stating the worth of this disc and that piece of paper and in the end they end up with most of our food, our shelter and our clothing while we scrape around trying to come up with our own? I JUST DON'T GET IT! Nothing about any of it makes any LOGICAL SENSE so WHY have we and still do ALLOW TO THIS INSANE AGREEMENT with these parasites?

  42. The answer to your question is fascism/national socialism taking the best from both sides and building the best possible society.

    This is a link refering to the philosophy of the most hated man in the modern world

  43. Well, China had a growth in average material wealth before the spread of the Black Death. Before the waves of disease that affected China in the period 1200-1400, the average Chinese person was wealthier than any other citizen anywhere else. The same can be said of the average European before the Black Death as well. The Chinese and European populations grew substantially in the 13th century. I'm sure this video is correct, but I'm just pointing out that the consumer society is much older than the 18th century.

  44. I'm really feeling like a victim of the consumerism "culture". it's just so over the top. I hate it!
    funny thing is I was born in a small city which was similar to a village in it's mentality that turned to a big consumerism promoting city. I miss simplicity and it's oh so clear how people are losing track of the important things in life….I'm definitely not where I should be 🙁

  45. This is why you see new agism, meditation, yoga retreats and activism commodified. Trying to move it into something virtuous, the problem with that is once commodified they become quite fake and in the case of activism nullified. Such as in the irony of a commodified anticalitalism. Or the irony of virtue signalling, which is in itself incredibly vain.

  46. Yes, money can buy happiness but not always – abstinence & spirituality remain important virtues. Something Stoic that permits indulgence fro time to time. Consumerism that is moral. Education & a health service which, is entirely free!

  47. Thank you so much. These videos are inspiring, fascinating, informative, and empowering. A deep and sincere thank you.

  48. Thanks for the video.
    The end was, at least, somewhat positive. It is difficult to imagine that society is actually headed in a more virtuous way however.

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