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The Future of Consumer Society

Consumer society in the United States and other countries is receding due to demographic ageing, rising income inequality, political paralysis, and resource scarcity. At the same time, steady jobs that compensate employees on a salaried or hourly basis are being replaced by freelancing and contingent work. The rise of the so-called sharing economy, the growth of do-it-yourself production, and the spreading popularity of economic localization are evidence that people are striving to find new ways to ensure livelihoods for themselves and their families in the face of profound change. Indications are that we are at the early stages of a transition away from a system of social organization predicated on consumerism. These developments have prompted some policy makers to suggest providing households with a non-labor source of income that would enable more adequate satisfaction of their basic needs. These proposals include a universal basic income, a citizen's dividend, and a legal framework for broad-based stock ownership in corporations. However, extreme political fractiousness makes it unlikely that these recommendations will receive prompt and widespread legislative endorsement in most countries. In the meantime, we seem to be moving incontrovertibly toward a twenty-first century version of feudalism. How might we chart a different path founded on social inclusiveness and economic security? A practicable option entails establishment of networks of interlinked worker-consumer cooperatives that organizationally unify production and consumer. Such modes of mutual assistance already exist and The Future of Consumer Society profiles several successful examples from around the world. If replicated and scaled, worker-consumer cooperatives could smooth the transition beyond consumer society and facilitate a future premised on sufficiency, resiliency, and well-being.
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About the Author

Maurie J. Cohen is Professor of Sustainability Studies and Director of the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Associate Fellow at the Tellus Institute. He is Editor of Sustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy (SSPP) and co-founder and Executive Board Member of the Sustainable Consumption Research and Action Initiative (SCORAI). His books include Innovations in Sustainable Consumption: New Economics, Socio-technical Transitions and Social Practices (with Halina Szejnwald Brown and Philip Vergragt, Edward Elgar, 2013) and Exploring Sustainable Consumption: Environmental Policy and the Social Sciences (with Joseph Murphy, Pergamon, 2001). He holds a PhD in regional science from the University of Pennsylvania.


Cohen provides us with a measured and well-informed overview of the fragile and unsustainable state of 21st century consumerism. He draws upon a wealth of evidence to expose the limits of various attempts to move beyond consumer capitalismthe socalled sharing economy, the maker movement, and the move towards local production all of which, he suggests, are underpinned by many of the same problems that beset more traditional forms of consumerism. His book leaves us with profound questions about our future, as well as providing a compelling argument for both the necessity and the complexity of adopting more sustainable forms of human progress. * Justin Lewis, Professor of Communication and Dean of Research for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Cardiff University and author of Beyond Consumer Capitalism: Media and the Limits to Imagination. * Maurie Cohen has examined the contours of todays consumer society more searchingly than almost anyone. What he tells us in this insightful and very readable book is that key underpinnings of consumerism are weakening and may be crumbling. To those of us disheartened by the Sunday New York Times style magazine and appalled by the Black Friday shopping crushes, his findings come as good news indeed. His warning that we had better get busy shaping what comes next and his pointers in that regard are important contributions. * James Gustave Speth, author of America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy. * This timely and insightful book is a must-read for anyone interested in the future of Western consumer society. It offers a careful appraisal of the challenging circumstances in which the United Statesthe prototype of consumer societies worldwidefinds itself today.Maurie Cohen, a leading expert on sustainable development, carefully outlines and weighs the promises and pitfalls of the alternatives currently being debated as potential pathways to more sustainable societies. Practitioners and policy makers concerned with the good life for consumers, workers, and citizens will find this book an inspirational reference tool. * Lucia A. Reisch, Professor and Chair of Intercultural Consumer Research and European Consumer Policy, Copenhagen Business School and co-editor of the Handbook of Research on Sustainable Consumption. *

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