Consumption Is Not a Sin

An open letter to Pope Francis, on his encyclical Laudato Si:

I have carefully read your encyclical, which picks up Saint Francis' prayers about our common home, Planet Earth. I wish to participate in your effort of raising awareness and bringing the world together around the common cause of saving our common home, one that humanity has hindered in several ways. I pleasingly read about how other popes have spoken on this matter, particularly John XXIII, whom I admire. Still, I find it appropriate to highlight that because of the philosophic and theological reasoning in your passage as well as the moral passion, it generalizes the negative effect that some men in business and power have had on our home.

I understand Saint Francis' precept of poverty. I consider poverty an ailment that gravely affects our home and I agree we must look for an efficient and timely way of reducing it. As you accurately highlight, poverty is our common enemy. Despite out agreement on this matter, I would like to differ and point out that consumerism is actually the most efficient way of reducing poverty, as discussed by Bill Gates in his article Why Inequality Matters.

Consumerism is misunderstood, and I believe your encyclical aggravates the misconstruction of the concept. Because products allow us to achieve better life standards, consumption can be a mechanism for satisfying our needs, even spiritual ones. However, there are indeed imperfections in purchasing transactions and in consumption that often lead to a bad result.

There are two phenomena I wish to emphasize in this reflection: supply and demand. First, regarding supply, companies will continuously develop new products knowing that through research and development they will produce more efficiently and in an environmentally friendly manner, thus manufacturing better products. This has been seen as a scheduled obsolescence, and as an enormous improvement, despite making products more affordable so more people can have more things, not the other way around.

Second, regarding demand, people buy things thanks to the successful economic policies and the healthy development of marketing. Some may consider that having certain things is not necessary, but they are wrong. It is normal to own objects we don't use frequently, whether because we buy them for a specific purpose or because we already own another object that better satisfies our needs. It is easy to attack amassing clothes we don't use, but grand libraries accumulate books too.

Consumption is good, healthy, functional, and can even be regarded as the best way to exercise ones social, civil, and democratic rights. Through consumption, people's needs are purposely satisfied due to the liberty and equality that it grants. For this reason, the sentence and tweet "the emptier a person's heart, the more need to purchase, to posse, and to consume objects," is incorrect. On the contrary, those who consume to their satisfaction are able to be more generous, moderate, and happy.

I write to you not only to reflect on this matter, but also to summon you to raise a flag in this crusade you have embarked in the name of our home, in which we ask companies to educate consumers to properly use their products, because consumption has saved many, but its equivocal use has had perverse results.

With the utmost respect and admiration,

Camilo Herrera Mora