For most of history, the overwhelming majority of the Earth’s inhabitants
have owned, more or less, nothing.
他们只有穿的衣服 一些碗具 一个锅一个壶
The clothes they stood up in, some bowls, a pot and a pan,
或许有把扫帚 情况好点的 还有些农具
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
也能买点别的小奢侈品了: 一把梳子 一面镜子
found they could go shopping for small luxuries: a comb or a mirror,
一套备用内衣 一个枕头 一双厚靴 或是一条毛巾
a spare set of underwear, a pillow, some thicker boots or a towel.
Their expenditure created a virtuous economic cycle.
他们花得越多 商业越兴旺 工资就涨得越多
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.
在英国很多城市你可以从 Chip ‘n Dale、Hepplewhite、Sheraton 购买家具
In England’s cities you could buy furniture from Chip ‘n’ Dale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton
从Wedgwood、Derby买瓷器 从Sheffield 的铁匠铺购买餐具
pottery from Wedgewood and Derby, cutlery from the smitheries of Sheffield
and hats, shoes and dresses 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.
对漫画家来说倒是有趣 消费者的新奇喜好是如此生动如此众多 以至于
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.
他们称之为虚荣 是一种罪 神的儿女们应该远离商店
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”
该书认为 与几个世纪以来宗教或道德思想相反的是 使得人们生活富裕
which proposed that contrary to centuries of religious and moral thinking, what made countries rich
安全 诚实 慷慨 英勇 坚强的是
and therefore safe, honest, generous, spirited and strong
was a very minor, unelevated and apparently undignified activity:
shopping for pleasure.
正是这种对被孟德维尔称为“无用品”的消费: 帽子 头罩 手套 黄油盘
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.
人们当然不需要什么刺绣手包 丝绸拖鞋 或冰激凌
Of course no one needed embroidered handbags, silk lined slippers or ice creams
但如果人们因时尚推崇而想买它们 这是种好事 因为为了满足这些零碎需求
but it was a blessing that they could be prompted by fashion to want them, for on the back of demand
需要建作坊 培训学徒 投资医院
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 the 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.
然而 即使卢梭反对孟德维尔的观点 他也从未否认他分析背后的基本假设
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
approach of many pop artists in mid 20th century America.
比如说 克拉斯·欧登伯格就因为使用了现代消费品而闻名 他的许多作品都与食物相关
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,
huge 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 bathos 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.
那些蕾丝手帕 首饰盒 寺庙形奶油小点心
All those embroidered lace handkerchiefs, jewel snuff boxes and miniature temples made of cream for dessert
都相当琐碎 他认为 但它们促进了贸易 创造了就业 并由此产生了巨大的财富
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.
然而 斯密对未来抱有一些美好的愿望 他指出
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 of by realists like Bernard Mandeville.
Among these are need for education, for self understanding,
for beautiful cities and for rewarding social lives.
在亚当·斯密看来 资本主义的终极目标 是在其种种复杂性中解决幸福的问题
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
of rather exploitative, 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.