[First published on Free Life]
The belief that economic progress is boosted by consumption is based upon the kind of misunderstanding that could be made only by intellectuals – the product of theorising that is completely detached from the common sense that everyone else possesses.
The misunderstanding is based on a conflation of the desire to consume on the one hand with the act of consumption on the other – or, in other words, it confuses motive with cause.
All economic progress is motivated by the desire to achieve consumption – in other words, to satisfy as many of our ends as possible. Without any desire to consume or to satisfy any ends there would never be any economic activity whatsoever. Thus, the bigger our desire for consumption then the greater will be our efforts to speed up economic progress.
However, economic progress is not caused, or brought into being, by the act of consumption. Rather, the act of consumption is the result of economic progress (i.e. of increased production). Actually consuming is what we to do in order to reward ourselves once we have produced something – it is not what we do in order to start production in the first place. Indeed, as is so often the case with realities that are hidden by myths, this truth is intuitive – you cannot consume a good unless it has first been brought into existence by production.