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The Observer: "Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers"

"Our role as obedient customers is put under the spotlight in an ambitious history of global economics"

Link to web site

"JG Ballard's last published novel, Kingdom Come, unfolds in a fictional London suburb called Brooklands, where a vast shopping mall [wonder which one] fosters a bovine social docility. In the book's wayward conceit, consumerism is a totalitarian device used to control people and their artificial wants. Fired up by dreams of wealth, Brooklanders indulge in Black Friday-style bargain-hunting in their local Metro Centre.

"Ballard was not the first to see shopping as a secular religion. Émile Zola, in his 1883 novel The Ladies’ Paradise, tells the rise of a department store in late 19th-century Paris and its role in the new mass consumption. With its silk counters and perfume department, the store looks forward to our age of indiscriminate purchase and credit binge. Far from aiding the French economy, Zola's cathedral of commerce heralds a new retail Europe of consumer anxiety, boom and bust.

"...Free-trade champions tend to see consumption as embodying the individual’s right to “consumer choice”. In their neoliberal view, money spent on material goods bolsters the values of democracy and prosperity for all. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher ('the priestess of neoliberalism', says Trentmann) sought to demolish anti-consumerist Marxist attitudes as a matter of urgency. When, in March 1987, she toured Soviet Moscow in a Cossack-style fur hat, the Russians embraced her as an emissary of barcode freedoms and wealth."

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