The Business of Consumption

by Nelson Harvey 

“Is the consumer economy sustainable?” That’s the sort of question that you might expect to see on the website of an environmental group, or hear discussed in a college classroom. But it got a much larger forum last week, as the National Public Radio program Marketplace aired a weeklong series titled “Consumed,” on the underbelly of the consumer economy.

You’ve got to check the series out for yourself; I was genuinely impressed by the breadth and quality of the coverage it included. Whether it’s pointing out that diesel pollution from  container ships shortens the lives of 20,000 people per year, or asking whether greed is itself a mental illness, the work raises a lot of important questions.

What’s significant about this is it’s source: Marketplace is a business news program, even if it is a fairly liberal one. It’s the place where people turn to see how the DOW Index is doing in the morning, and to get advice on their investment portfolios. When the program’s own coverage answers my opening question with a decisive “NO,” it raises the biggest question of all: what the hell are we going to do about it?

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