How do consumer goods contribute to the growth of hierarchy and discrimination?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Consumer goods are commodities that are produced to satisfy the needs and wants of purchasers. In the increasingly global economy in which we live, people in developed countries tend to have the greatest amount of disposable capital to buy consumer goods. That is, they have extra income, not needed for mere survival, to purchase goods that they want or perceive of as necessary. To manufacture these goods in an economical way and to keep prices down, (making these goods attractive to consumers), the production of goods has largely moved from developed countries such as those in Western Europe and the United States and Canada to countries such as China, India, and Brazil.

As the World Bank document below states, the middle class in these developing nations has increased. At the same time, the working class in the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe has lost jobs. At the same time, the elite in the United States has prospered. There is an increasingly steep class hierarchy in countries such as the U.S., where the top 10% of income earners claim over 50% of the income (see the source from Equitable Growth, below).

In addition, the production of consumer goods means that people in developing countries are often working in unsafe or polluted environments to make goods. For example, Apple factories in China have routinely been found to violate basic safety conditions, and many workers, including children, are forced to work very long hours (see the article from the Guardian below). Therefore, people in other nations are often at the bottom of the global hierarchy in terms of their ability to enjoy a safe and healthy life, while the elite in developed nations are at the top.

Finally, consumer goods can lead to discrimination, as those who can't afford these goods are often seen as lesser in some ways. For example, it has become almost routine for kids as young as pre-teens to have expensive cell phones, which they often bring to schools when permitted to do so. Those without the desire or means to purchase these goods are seen as not part of the up-to-date consumer culture, and employers may also expect applicants to possess cell phones. If prospective employees do not have these goods, they may be at a disadvantage in hiring, leading to discrimination over the possession of consumer goods. 

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