Consumer culture is good for your soul. It is a part of leisure, not work. It takes place after hours and is aimed at forming social bonds. Whether you’re purchasing food for a family meal, buying someone a drink or getting in line to buy a gift on Black Friday, you’re spending time and money to create new circuits of feeling among friends and family.
You’re not doing these things to earn a wage, turn a profit or procure a bigger bonus. On this scene, your only compensation is an improved emotional climate, and you’re a better person for it.
That’s the private side of spending. Now look at the public side. We Americans try to live by the criterion of productivity: from each according to his ability, to each according to the value of the work he produces. Because we still have this work ethic, employed or not, we believe that the relation between effort and reward, or work and income, should be intelligible: both transparent and justifiable.
The trouble is, the relation between effort and reward, or work and income, has become totally unintelligible. A laborer works long, exhausting days, yet stays poor; a savvy stock analyst pushes paper — bad paper, even — and gets rich.