Penguin £10.99 (248pp) £9.89 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 0870 079 8897

All Consuming, By Neal Lawson

When the spending has to stop

Stoked by easy credit and ever-rising house prices, Britons went on a decade-long spending binge which screeched to a halt last winter when spending "fell of a cliff" - in the words of one commentator. Until the bust, many thought the boom would never end. Diamond-encrusted mobile phones, £20,000 children's parties, £36,000 bar bills: in 2007, the average wedding cost £17,000. While not quite Bacchanalian, the excessess of the noughties crowd Neal Lawson's new book on consumerism.

He does not pick them out as an historical anomaly; to him they illustrate a trend that has taken over society, turning us from public-minded citizens into dissatisfied consumers; making us ever more materialistic, selfish and unhappy. We have become "turbo-consumers". Shopping is no longer functional, but our primary leisure pursuit. We are no longer buying the things we need to live, but living to buy things we don't need.

When did "doing the shopping" become "going shopping"? Lawson asks. The problem began when Margaret Thatcher accepted the free market dogma of Friedrich Von Hayek and other thinkers, and rolled back the state. The market started seeping more deeply into our lives, squeezing out uncommercial interests such as thinking, singing, walking, talking to neighbours and doing things for the community.

The result? A fractured society. As one survey participant told researchers for the Joseph Rowntree Trust: "We are in danger of losing sight of what is important in life, like kindness, playfulness, generosity and friendship. The immaterial things that can't be bought."

To pay for the ever-increasing lists of must-have purchases we work the longest hours in Europe, 301 more than the French per year. In the past 60 years, productivity per worker has doubled. But we are never happy - because advertisers and marketing experts persuade us that we can't be unless we buy more stuff. This approach to consuming is extending into traditionally non-commercial areas, like the dating experts employed by stressed executives to source long-term partners.

"We could live as we did in 1948 and have an additional six months off a year to do whatever we wanted, or strike some better balance between time and more things. But this is never the choice presented to us. The option is never more time, it's always buying more," complains Lawson. Instead, individuals should seize back control by considering working fewer hours and buying less; from businesses with good records on the environment, animal welfare and workers' rights, and by joining grassroots networks like book-swapping schemes and freecycle, which offers free unwanted items.

All these are worthy, if predictable, ideas, but Lawson is better at suggesting some macro solutions. His ten ideas for creating a more satisfied society include the unlikely - a ban on advertising outdoors and rationing of goods and services – and the more practical: higher taxes on luxury goods, a simple unified kite mark for ethical products, a ban on companies supplying educational materials in schools, and a 35-hour week (as practised in France).

Perhaps his chairmanship of the Brownite presure group Compass explains why Lawson is not more critical of Labour for accepting a modified Thatcherism, rather than forging a happier politics based on family, friends, community and environment. Surely Labour is as guilty as the Conservatives for believing that rising prosperity will solve social ills?

His account, while fluent and cogent, reads like a racy think-tank pamphlet. It is oddly passionless. Seemingly threaded together from cuttings and reports, it has few human talking heads and they have only cameos. In one fascinating glimpse of original research, "Amanda" says that when she meets prospective boyfriends, she is more interested in their clothes brands than themselves. "It's the image not the face," she says. We could have done with a chapter on Amanda.

Nonetheless, Lawson has a firm grip on the narrative of how consumerism came to dominate Britain. This is a welcome primer for policymakers on why the market is not the solution to everything but, when it becomes so overweaning, the problem itself.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all