Thursday, December 13, 2018

Globalization of Demand

Demand for products is culturally derived: while human beings have certain universal biological needs for consumption, the manner in which these needs has historically been influenced greatly by culture.  All humans need to eat, but exactly what foods are eaten has been dictated by culture.  In the consumption of non-essential goods, culture plays an even greater role in determining what individuals will seek to consume.

And historically, culture has been highly diverse – but it is becoming less so.   Humanity once existed in the form of isolated tribes with little contact with one another, and each tribe developed its own culture.   But since the early twentieth century, and particularly during the last fifty years or so, humanity has become more interconnected.  Meeting someone from another culture is common, an almost daily occurrence to anyone living in an urbanized area of a developed economy – and globally, the population has become more developed and more urbanized.    There is less isolation and less insulation between cultures.

The result of this is cultural democratization: whenever a person witnesses a difference between his own culture and that of another person, there is the moment of evaluation in which he asks himself whether he should adopt the customs and consequential consumption patters of another – in smaller words, he wonders if only for a moment if “their” ways are better than his own.   And over time, this leads to the adoption of exocultural behaviors – first as a novelty, but eventually as a matter of course, until the cultural difference becomes a cultural commonality.  

The same can be said of the social classes, which across all societies are becoming leveled.  There are still the “haves” and “have-nots” but this tends to be in terms of quantity and frequency rather than in the identity.   The rich consume more than the poor, but when they have the means to consume, the social classes tend to consume essentially the same things.  There are very few luxuries for the rich that are not available, in a cheaper and more vulgarized manner, to the poor. The wealthier classes consume an upscale version – better quality of the same thing.

International trade provides markets easy access to products that were previously unavailable – but it is the democratization of culture that causes these products to be demanded, and demanded on such scale that they can be effectively commoditized and mass-produced to capture every market segment that is demanding them.    It is no longer the ability to obtain a good that distinguishes one culture or class from another, but the desire to obtain it – and that desire is becoming less distinctive across classes and cultures.

Whether the loss of cultural distinctions is to be celebrated or mourned is a separate matter, and one that seems to be largely subjective based on the appetite for diversity and the sense of which cultural artifacts are “winning” the market.  The point here is that fifty years ago, exposure to the artifacts of other cultures was practically unheard of; today it has become commonplace; and perhaps another fifty years hence, it may be of little relevance: global culture will likely have become largely commoditized, with the differences among cultures being few and superficial. 

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