Written by Ruth D’Souza and Ayushi Ghosh | Edited by Drishti Rana and Ashna Ranade
Although the word binge is often seen in a negative light, being portrayed as a sign of over indulgence of excess, the consumption binge doesn’t necessarily work the same way for the economy. A simple calculation of consumption is calculated by measuring the relationship between what consumers spend and their income. The history of economies that had mainly agricultural societies was one in which people worked to produce more but consume little.
The change in consumption levels began with the Industrial Revolution which caused a significant increase in the disposable income of consumers.
While the natural assumption is that a consumption binge or a low saving rate is the cause of many economic problems like a slowdown of productivity and competitiveness of the economy, it would be incorrect to view this spending binge as an entirely negative prospect for the economy. According to a paper by Robert A Blecker (1990), a country with a current account deficit spends in excess of its income, but one cannot spotlight excess consumption as a reason for the occurrence of this imbalance. In particular, it cannot be merely stated that excessive consumption is a cause of the negative current account deficit or the fact that increasing the private savings would translate into correcting the imbalance.
In fact, there are definitive positive aspects of the spending binge. For one, it can be attributed to an improvement in the level of capex performance. What’s the capex you might ask? In a nutshell, capex means capital expenditure or purchase of goods and services that in turn improves the performance of a company, in this particular scenario, we are talking about an entire economy. In early 2021, 15 states in India saw a spending increase of a steep 31%, which was accompanied by a significant increase in the capex performance of the states.
Like any economic factor, the spending binge is not without its drawbacks but here it really works as a boon in the economy. In a period of economic slowdown, which is the situation present in most economies owing to the pandemic, the increase in spending works to stimulate the economy. As a catalyst of economic activity, it functions to increase output levels and stimulate growth rebounds. Taking the example of the effect of the Omicron variant appearing in December last year, the spending hit a major slump which affected supply chain issues either directly or indirectly.
In order to understand the debilitating nature of consumption binge, we must first look to define the phrase itself. Consumption binge is, in the simplest terms, an excess in any sphere of indulgence- an idea that has expanded beyond the traditional notion of addiction to liquor or food to better fit the modern context. Once considered abnormal or even obsessive, the normalization of binging has been aided by the invention and advancement of technology, such as with the establishment of various streaming platforms and services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime etc. this growing culture of instant and easy gratification is one that has been carefully cultivated through sneaky algorithms and consumer preference monitoring- or, in other words, through encouraging engagement.
According to Pittman & Sheehan (2015), of all factors analyzed (engagement, relaxation, passing time, hedonism, social), only engagement was related to how often one binge-watched. The growing notion of treating attention as currency has even bled into the way media presents itself- as seen explicitly in the growing popularity of apps like TikTok and Twitch. Both these apps present an interesting contrast in their approach to attention- one uses a continuous stream of cautiously curated 30 second videos, whereas the other relies on the charisma of a single person to keep the viewer engaged for hours. This control of what a person perceives and consumes presents a much larger threat, especially as a driving force for perceived obsolescence. It does so through the subliminal transmission of trends and advertisement. This can be seen most explicitly in the case of fashion and makeup. Though trends have always been fleeting, they evolve on most days with the onset of these consumption binge-based applications. From ‘fashion hauls’ on tiktok to makeup trends on shows such as euphoria, the consumer is now more than ever tempted to emulate the trends they consume the most. The same stands true for gadgets and gizmos of all manners.
One of the first laws of economics taught to us at the school level is that resources are limited. This also forms the foundation for the study of economics itself- wherein economists try to equitably distribute these resources to meet everyone’s needs. Keeping this in mind, there arise multiple ethical questions with regards to the consumption binge. Consumption binge is, as previously mentioned, one of the known perpetrators for planned obsolescence, which is concerning for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, there is the issue of the massive generation of waste that occurs with fleeting trends. Globally, we produce around 13 million tonnes of textile waste and 50 million tonnes of electronic waste each year. It is predicted that the world will generate 3.4 billion metric tonnes of waste per year by the year 2050. In a world that is already struggling to accommodate and properly dispose of waste- this is a massive cause for concern.
Secondly- there is the issue of the energy cost of consumption binge. According to research by the American Time Use Survey, binge watchers account for about 34% of all the electricity used to power televisions in America. Moreover, PC gamers use about 75 billion kilowatts an hour of electricity every single year, which is equivalent to the output of 25 power plants!
The energy and environmental cost of consumption binge is too high to remain sustainable in the long run, and should therefore be treated not only as a psychological but also an economic problem.
References and further reading:
Labonté, R. (2022, January 25). A post-covid economy for health: from the great reset to build back differently. The BMJ. https://www.bmj.com/content/376/bmj-2021-068126
BLECKER, R. A. (1990). The Consumption Binge Is a Myth. Challenge, 33(3), 22–30. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40721155
Sahu, P. (2021, June 14). Capital Formation: March spending binge salvages states’ capex in FY21. The Financial Express. https://www.financialexpress.com/economy/capital-formation-march-spending-binge-salvages-states-capex-in-fy21/2270684/
Dockrill, P. (2016, April 15). Binge-Watchers Are Responsible For One-Third of All TV Electricity Usage. ScienceAlert. Retrieved February 20, 2022, from https://www.sciencealert.com/binge-watchers-are-responsible-for-one-third-of-all-tv-electricity-u
sageGänßle, S. (2020). EconStor: What drives binge-watching? An economic theory and analysis of impact factors. EconStar. Retrieved February 20, 2022, from https://www.econstor.eu/handle/10419/215812
Granow, V. C., Reinecke, L., & Ziegele, M. (2018, October 1). Binge-Watching and Psychological Well-Being: Media Use Between Lack of Control and Perceived Autonomy.
Taylor & Francis. Retrieved February 20, 2022, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08824096.2018.1525347?src=recsys
Tomitsch, M. (2021, November 20). Streaming binge-worthy videos does come at a cost. Here’s how it impacts the environment.
ThePrint. Retrieved February 20, 2022, from https://theprint.in/environment/streaming-binge-worthy-videos-does-come-at-a-cost-heres-how-it-impacts-the-environment/768125/