This essay is from a talk given as part of the “Crisis and Constradictions of Consumption” conference in Las Vegas in August 2011.
There is, at least from my point of view, no better place to discuss the crisis and contradictions in consumption in the US, especially in its cathedrals of consumption, than in Las Vegas, the city devoted to, and built on, consumption and defined globally by its iconic cathedrals of consumption; the major casino-hotels on the Strip. It is here that we witnessed what was arguably the greatest consumer-driven expansion in the US in the run up to the Great Recession and, as a result of the latter, perhaps the greatest economic setbacks.
Unemployment in Las Vegas rose as high as 15% and is still over 12%. New construction is virtually non-existent. The foreclosure rate, while slightly down from 2009, remains the highest, and by a wide margin, of all the metropolitan areas in the US. Gaming revenue dropped by $2 billion at the depth of the recession and is still down about $1.5 billion from the peak. The largest casino hotel conglomerates- MGM and Caesars- continue to report huge losses largely because of debt incurred during the Great Recession. Mirroring the global economic shift to the Far East, Las Vegas is no longer the gambling capital of the world and has been surpassed by both Macau and Singapore.Globally, Dubai has the dubious honor of rivaling, or maybe even outdoing, Las Vegas in terms of the irrational exuberance associated with the pre-recession consumption and the associated building boom. Although I doubt that Dubai’s Emirati have suffered much, the low-end migrant workers brought in to do manual work, especially in construction, have borne the brunt of the pain. There are many empty lots in the city with construction on hold or never begun in the first place. The Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, has been completed, but is deeply troubled economically.
Crisis in Consumption OR American Capitalism: A Sociological Perspective on the Consumer-Led Recession
Robert D. Manning
Responsible Debt Relief Institute
With the onset of the fifth year of the Great Recession, it is surprising how muted has been the voice and public policy influence of Sociology in general and sociologists in particular. For students of the Sociology of Consumption, there is an enormous opportunity to explore new theoretical and empirical approaches to the greatest economic crisis of the post-World War Two period. Like the examination of the social problems precipitated by Hurricane Katrina, sociologists could play an enormous role in shaping new generational expectations (challenge ethos of economic mobility), politically progressive mobilizations (Occupy Wall Street), environmentally sustainable policies (Green Energy), future patterns of reduced inequality (income tax reform), cultural mores (socially responsible consumption, greater savings), and prudent public policy (consumer protections, marketing regulations). This monumental project includes a wide-range of challenges at a multitude of levels including academic, intellectual, national, community, cultural, behavioral, and legal/statutory discourses. The current failure of the dominant economic paradigm offers an historic opportunity for Sociology to “Seize the Moment” before other perspectives and approaches gain greater “brand” recognition and are “consumed” with greater gusto and accompanying PR spin.
Competing Narratives of Current Societal CrisisThe most striking feature of the current economic crisis and attendant public policy discourse is the lack of “Sociological Imagination.”