I was having dinner with some friends last night here in Berlin and the conversation touched on the whole dynamic of consumer societies and the effects of advertising. I floated a theory (it is easy to float theories when they have very little weight) to the effect that there might be a conservation law of consumer satisfaction. Or more accurately, of consumer misery.
In order to sell things in a consumer economy, you need to create dissatisfaction. For example, you hire impossibly slender fourteen year old fashion models to sell clothing to grown women, thereby accentuating your customers’ insecurities about their own bodies.
This strategy only works up to a point. For it seems to me that if you get people too depressed about themselves, then they will lose heart in general, after which they’ll start to lose all self confidence and appetite for life, and your consumer economy will start to sag.
So a consumer economy needs to keep people at just the right level of being unhappy. In other words, there is a conservation law at work, according to which there is some optimal constant for the sum of desire and misery.