I Consume, Therefore I Am
Victor Lebow wrote an autobiography titled Free Enterprise: The Opium of the American People, published in 1972, but information about his life is fairly scarce on the web. This is rare for someone whose name is so well known in certain circles. In Free Enterprise he reports being an executive, officer, and director of large corporations. He was vice president of the Kyser-Roth Corporation and a former director of Faberge (1972). He once testified before the Senate Small Business Committee as part of its investigation into competitive practices, and at one point was the co-chairman of the University Seminar on the Economics of Distribution at Columbia University. He was a contributor to magazines such as The Nation, and The Progressive as well as the Journal of Marketing and, the most pertinent, Journal of Retailing (Lebow, 1955).
He retired in the late 50’s, and in his obituary is reported to have been active in the civil rights movement. As usual, Victor Lebow was a three-dimensional human being; he himself was not wicked. Nevertheless, the ramifications of something he said are wicked even if he wasn’t. It was published in an essay titled “Price Competition in 1955” published in the spring edition of the Journal of Retailing (Lebow, 1955). It renders him to be, arguably, the greatest proponent of consumerism in US history. Citizens become consumers ahead of all else.
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“Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats- his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies.
These commodities and services must be offered to the consumer with a special urgency. We require not only “forced draft” consumption, but “expensive” consumption as well. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace.”
Lebow, V. (1955). 1955 Price Competition. Journal for Retailing. 1–7. Lebow, V. (1972). Free enterprise: The opium of the American people. MEXICO, D.F.