The Sun News

The cost of conspicuous consumption


October 1 has come and gone, not with a bang, but something less than a whimper. The reason is obvious: We are in recession.  But if that doesn’t mean much to the man on the street, he surely understands what it means to be broke, to be hungry, to be ravaged by pangs of poverty. Poverty needs no introduction or definition. Once it hits you, you feel it at once. Once you encounter it, your life can’t be the same again, that’s if you are lucky to survive.
And survival is proving difficult for many of our citizens, with recession moving from technical to stark reality.  So, what could have been the essence of celebrating the nation’s independence, when majority of Nigerians are held hostage by economic shackles? When unemployment, job losses and the worst inflation in 29 years of our nationhood stares all in the face? When the naira is proving not to be worth the paper it is printed? Lord, have mercy!
Truth is, a 56 year-old man still suffering teething problems of a child or manifesting the unsteady steps of a teenager or youth, should not roll out the drums in celebration but be in sober reflection on his stunted growth or arrested development. So it was with Nigerians. So it is with our country.
On October 1, I had cause to reflect on where we are as a nation and what got us to this sorry pass. And what is that? Conspicuous Consumption!  We are simply paying the price of our giddy and reckless lifestyles of the past. Sadly, we haven’t quite abandoned our debased life of conspicuous consumption. Conspicuous Consumption is what has ruined us, is what is still keeping us where we are, and until our leaders abandon this perilous path, we will never get out of the woods. Even as a people we have to abandon the evil spirit of Conspicuous Consumption: Spending money on what you don’t need, just to show you have arrived or ‘I better pass my neighbour.’
The term Conspicuous Consumption was first propounded by Thorstein Veblen, a Norwegian-American economist, to describe consumers who buy expensive items to display wealth and income, rather than on their real needs. Veblen’s well-researched book, “The Theory of the Leisure Class,” published in 1899, gave a vivid portrait of this economically toxic group;  showy and phantom spending, which eventually ends up impoverishing many people and nations.
Veblen’s examples of Conspicuous Consumption in the society also fittingly applies to the Nigerian society. Veblen says, for example, “Fashion designer clothes are not a necessity; they serve the purpose to show that the person who wears them can afford them and has a certain social status.”
“Diamonds or jewelry in the broader sense are other Veblen goods, so are high-end watches. Rolls Royce and Bentleys are also classed as Veblen goods, that serve basically to announce the owners’ social status.”
There is also the example of silverware, golden spoons and forks, which is classed as Conspicuous Consumption habit. “There is no added benefit of eating with a silver spoon. Besides that, taking care of silver ware is time-consuming too as it requires regular polishing. The fact that they are used when guests arrive shows that they are an item, whose main purpose is to show others the status of the owner.”
There are other good examples of the vanity of engaging in Conspicuous Consumption, especially for a nation that is not only in recession, but one deeply steeped in consuming, not productivity. We are a people who feed largely on what we don’t produce; spend what we don’t earn. How could we not be in recession with these unedifying attributes? The real shock is that it has taken this long for this to happen to us. God has been really kind to us!
If our people have for long engaged in Conspicuous Consumption, those who lead us have been most guilty. Go to Government Houses across the nation; observe the lifestyles of those who have called themselves our governors and presidents, what you find is a country ruined not by economic vicissitudes alone, but profligacy, recklessness, Conspicuous Consumption!  Governments across all tiers are permanently feasting, while majority of the people they purportedly pretend to serve languish in poverty. That is the evil of Conspicuous Consumption.
But, not all our leaders have engaged in Conspicuous Consumption. Take, for example, Mr. Peter Obi, ex-governor of Anambra State. He is reputed as one of Nigeria’s most austere governors ever. Obi has become a model and reference of prudent and pragmatic governance. He is the one who has actually inspired this column, after watching him on Channels TV on  Saturday, October 1, 2016.  He simply made my day.
October 1  was another independence anniversary, our 56th so far. Every independence is often a sad reminder to majority of Nigerians, of how badly successive leadership have managed to mismanage our national life.
Obi, the ex-bank chairman, London and Harvard-trained Economist and intellectual in his own right, who prefers to be addressed as simply Mr., in a country where average or no-achievers are title-crazy, was one of the guest speakers at the annual The Platform organised by Daystar Church.
But, he turned out, in my view, as the star of the event. He spoke from his heart to the hearts of many Nigerians; he said what many knew but have been either too timid or hypocritical to admit; he told us, the led and the followers, the truth and nothing but the truth. It is most unlikely that top government officials, especially the governors and the presidency, would find Mr. Obi’s postulations funny.
Sure, it’s no funny matter when devastating poverty ravages Africa’s most populous nation. So, Obi should nurse no worries how the powers-that-be perceived his diagnosis and prognosis of our ailment, which has now been given an elegant name-recession, which in actual fact, is a deadly disease, which if we adopt the ex-governor’s antidote and prescription could be a sure way out of the quagmire.
Now, what did Obi say that has made me go on and on? He spoke directly to our nation’s sense of misplaced priorities, our culture of wastes, the profligacy of states’ governors and top government officials at the centre. He talked about how those who lead had gradually destroyed our country by their senseless lifestyles.  His topic was how to cut the cost of governance, using his Anambra stewardship as reference.  In my view, he eloquently presented before us the cost of our leadership’s shameless Conspicuous Consumption over the years.
He spoke of billions wasted in local and foreign travels by government officials;  huge amounts blown on feeding in government houses, bullet proof cars,  maintenance of government lodges in Abuja and Lagos, with hordes of idle aides; presidential lodges that only feed the ego of states and so many other wasteful cost centres that should be immediately scrapped if our nation must survive. Mr. Obi reckons that Nigeria could save trillions of naira if those in authority could summon the courage to curtail their ostentatious lifestyles. I agree entirely with him.


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