From conspicuous consumption to conspicuous accomplishment

The new international development framework will be universal and place people and planet at the centre. The emphasis on “people”, in addition to the “planet”, will require a focus on the social dimension of sustainable development, as choices have to be made about pathways for human wellbeing based on how countries understand themselves and the world their citizens wish to live in.

A century ago, the economist Torstein Veblen coined the term “conspicuous consumption” to characterize the materialism of newly well-to-do Americans. The term “conspicuous accomplishment” has been suggested for China’s young nouveaux riches, as the compressed time frame and memories of previous austere lifestyles are leading to behaviors and expectations different to those in industrialized societies in terms of urban spaces, social status, lifestyles and identities, as well as social values that are not based on monetary, which are seen as Western, values. In India, half of the total urban population is found in towns each with a population of less than 0.5 million and “middle class” identification is based on social attitudes that are upbeat even at low
level of incomes.

China considers ‘ecological civilization’ a governing idea and national strategy for the whole society. While it aims to double 2010 GDP and per capita levels of rural and urban residents by 2050 it will cap emissions of carbon dioxide by 2030, providing a new model for other countries. The 18th Party Congress, in 2012,incorporated in the Party Constitution the statement that “promoting ecological progress is a long term task of vital importance to the people’s well-being and China’s future”. The effort is to shift from industrialization led economic development and urbanization to a services and high technology led development and urbanization to keep within ecological limits.

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