Why Consumer Marketing Will Eventually End

A few weeks ago I suggested that neuromarketing may be the ultimate threat to democracy
because people's unconscious brain processes can be manipulated to
shape political outcomes. In the context of today's pressing
challenges, this is terrible news. Now, more than ever, we need a
functioning electorate that can collaborate effectively to address the foundational

A few weeks ago I suggested that neuromarketing may be the ultimate threat to democracy
because people's unconscious brain processes can be manipulated to
shape political outcomes. In the context of today's pressing
challenges, this is terrible news. Now, more than ever, we need a
functioning electorate that can collaborate effectively to address the foundational design flaws of the global economy and save human civilization from utter ruin in the face of imminent ecological collapse.

Following this line of thinking, I'd like to explain why a long view
can help us understand how to deal with consumer marketing and its
harmful impacts on society. Let's start with the economic forces that
caused marketing to come into existence in the first place...

The Birth of Mass Marketing

Throughout most of human history, people who engaged in trade did so
face to face at a local marketplace. People learned who they could
trust to provide safe food to eat and quality trade skills to provide
for their needs. There was no pressure to develop significant brand
relationships between buyers and products because trust was mitigated
directly through interpersonal relationships.

More fundamentally, there wasn't enough supply to provide for
everyone's needs. People went hungry when crops failed and they lived
in squalor when building materials were scarce. It wasn't until the
steam engine was built that industrialization scaled enough to provide
sufficient supply to meet market demands. But then something happened
that has shaped global economic development ever since - it became
possible to generate more stuff than people needed (at least among those
who had the money to pay for it). This lead to the problem of excess supply.

Peter Barnes, in his insightful book Capitalism 3.0: A Guide To Reclaiming The Commons,
called this early period 'capitalism 1.0' defined by a perpetual demand
for essential services that greatly exceeded what could be supplied.
He called the second phase 'capitalism 2.0' because supply exceeded
demand and people needed to be persuaded to buy trinket A instead of
trinket B based on some criteria beyond its manufacturing quality.

And mass marketing was born.

Throughout the last century, marketing tactics have been used to
cultivate consumer culture. This was deemed necessary to provide an
engine for economic growth as population increased and there was greater
demand for wealth creation. This is why Gross Domestic Product is a
measure of economic well-being, because it tells us how successful
marketing has been at getting people to buy products.

The Hidden Flaw That Threatens Us All

The operating assumption of 20th Century economics, contrary to what
is taught about scarcity with regards to opportunity cost, is that there
is an endless abundance of raw materials to feed the perpetual
growth engine of the global economy. This assumption is blatantly
wrong and we're starting to experience the consequences.

We live on a finite planet that contains a limited amount of
renewable and non-renewable resources. No amount of ingenuity can
increase the amount of land, rare earth metals, fresh water, or other
vital inputs for a healthy society than that which the Earth is able to
create through its vast web of ecosystems. We are now entering the
third phase of economic development where supply is constrained by
rapidly depleting resources. During this phase, the business model
behind consumer marketing will become untenable. Getting people to buy
more doesn't work when there's not enough to go around any more.

So consumer marketing as we know it today has a shelf life. It
simply cannot continue indefinitely on a finite planet. So the good
news is that consumer culture is going to go away. The bad news is that
it may persist too long and drive massive over consumption of vital
resources until there just isn't enough left to be replenished for
future use. This would result in a huge die-off of people no longer
able to get the food, water, and shelter they need to survive.

So perhaps we shouldn't wait for the label to expire on consumer
marketing. There is serious need to redesign our economy now around
ecological principles that recognize natural limits (and the
interdependence of economic and ecological systems). This is what I
called for last week in Let's Build The New Economy.
I argued that the current economy is set up in a manner that doesn't
serve people. It will need to be dismantled (or collapse) and be
replaced by a different set of governing institutions that respect our
ecological reality.

This is a sobering call to action.

We don't have any good choices before us since our political
institutions are profoundly dysfunctional at the national and
international level. And a poisonous idea about government is destroying our collective capacity to govern effectively. We are also seeing the harmful effects of marketing within politics itself in political ads and media systems designed to spread corporate propaganda. Yet the problems are only growing in intensity.

The Great Transition

These problems aren't going to go away. If we are to do anything
about them, we'll need to act quickly, strategically, and with bold
vision. There's no Democrats or Republicans here. Hell, we even need
to think beyond national borders. This is the time for galvanizing and
coalescing the global movement of people who have been organizing for
decades to protect the environment and bring multinational corporations
under control.

We need a fresh perspective on politics that doesn't get locked into
the categories that defined the previous century. This is going to
require radical transparency and accountability, which is why so many
groups have initiated 'open government'
efforts that range from making public data accessible to software
developers to using social media platforms to bring more citizens into
the decision-making process. And this is only scratching the surface of
what can be done with mobile technologies and our global digital
communications infrastructure. Tools like Twitter and WordPress are
already seeding protest movements within dictatorial countries that were unthinkable only a few years ago.

We're also going to need robust local and regional economies to
weather the transition as national currencies become unstable. Just
think about the amount of trade induced debt the U.S. dollar has
incurred with China alone and it is clear that a Faustian bargain has
been made that cannot easily be undone by either trade partner. When
the crunches start to hit, be they in oil supplies or some other vital
resource, we are going to find out just how precarious our current perch

Wherever you are, please consider the warnings in this article and
the thousands of others out there pointing to the same dilemma. I may
not have all the answers but I can say for a fact that we're not going
to solve this problem if we don't deliberate about it with the utmost
seriousness and begin the long work of putting into place the
foundations for a different and better global economic system.

So, yes, consumer marketing is eventually going to come to an end.
The million dollar question is whether human civilization will end with

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