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Press release/statement

STATEMENT: Benjamin R. Barber's "CONSUMED" Now Out in Paperback

"In my opinion, Barber is right. The heart of this book--a section titled "The Eclipse of Citizens" — provides chapter and verse." --Washington Post Book World

New York, NY — Renowned political scientist and Demos Distinguished Senior Fellow Benjamin R. Barber offers a vivid portrayal of the way that a consumerist mentality has superseded the public good in his latest book, Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole (W.W. Norton & Company; March 2007), which is now available in paperback. Barber explains how Americans society is being transformed by the triumph of consumerism, and the potentially devastating consequences this transformation has already had on democracy.

Tracing the economic and intellectual history of capitalism, Barber argues that in the late 18th century, capitalism brought the promise of economic parity. During the two centuries following its ascendancy, the free market provided essential goods that met the public's needs. In recent decades, however, most of the critical public infrastructure needs like housing, education, roads and health care, had been met and people shifted their attention to non-essential desires instead.

In Consumed, Barber argues that the rise in consumerism has created a dangerous mentality that values personal choice over the public good, thereby infantilizing otherwise mature adults and turning children into permanent shoppers. Divided by their conflicting impulses as consumers and as citizens, individuals are increasingly drawn to a behavior Barber terms "civic schizophrenia". Drawing on political and economic theory, as well as pop trends and Google search statistics, Barber analyzes civic schizophrenia in three contemporary phenomena: privatization, branding, and consumer totalitarianism. 

  • Privatization: As Americans have moved away from being an engaged citizenry, the public sphere has increasingly become privatized, frequently putting public and civic interests at odds with consumer desires. The recent scandal over outsourcing aspects of health care at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center demonstrate how deleterious privatization can be where the public good is concerned.
  • Branding: In consumer societies, brand recognition is displacing religious and communal identities. Belief marketing, a lucrative enterprise for entrepreneurs ranging from the author of The Secret to the author of the Left Behind series, shows how brand recognition has infiltrated even the most sacred of identities.
  • Consumer Totalitarianism: As every sphere of life is taken over by corporate ads and promotional media, a new consumer ubiquity destroys diversity and undermines democratic pluralism. The erosion of the boundaries between private and public becomes increasingly worrisome when TV viewers have difficulty distinguishing promotional segments from news segments and foreheads can be turned into billboards with tattoos.

Barber acknowledges that there are significant opportunities for resistance inside the culture of consumerism. For example, local identities have been incorporated into global brands — such as Mecca Cola in North Africa. Some architects and designers have begun to view shopping environments as a way to celebrate the carnival spirit of capitalism. Media outlets like the magazine Adbusters and Comedy Central have created social and political satire aimed at subverting the excesses of consumerism and corrupt politics.

Barber has been vocal about the deleterious consequences of consumer culture. "Because things are flying off the shelves that we don't want or need or even understand..." Barber tells Bill Moyers in a recent interview, "we go on buying them." "Capitalism is no longer manufacturing goods to meet real needs and human wants. It's manufacturing needs to sell us all the goods it's got to produce."

Yet ultimately, Barber argues that all of these strategies will fail because they do not address the market system's need to create excessive consumerism and addictive materialism in order to survive. The only solution, Barber argues, is "a transformation of capitalism back into a needs-satisfying economic machine, and a transformation of democracy back into the sovereign guarantor of all domains private, the market domain included." The only way to do this, and also save capitalism from itself, is to democratize globalization.

Benjamin R. Barber is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos, a national, non-partisan public policy organization based in New York, a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland, and founder and director of the CivWorld project and its annual Interdependence Day event. An internationally renowned political theorist, Dr. Barber is the author of 17 books, including the widely acclaimed Jihad vs. McWorld. He consults regularly with political and civic leaders in the United States and Europe, and writes frequently for publications such as Harper's, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and others. The Barber blog STRONGDEMOCRACY can be found on the Huffington Post. Barber's personal website is