Skip to content
Mark Whitehouse

We’re Buying More Stuff We Don’t Need

The budget share of nonessential items has hit a 17-year high.
Maybe he's right.

Maybe he's right.

Photographer: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Here’s a Grinchian question for the holidays: How much do Americans spend on stuff they don’t really need? A very rough analysis suggests they’re blowing more money on nonessential items than they have in more than 17 years.

Back in the 1950s, the economist John Kenneth Galbraith made a bleak argument about modern capitalism: Advertising can create artificial wants -- say, for the latest gadget or skin cream -- that spur ever-greater consumption without actually making people better off. As a result, economies can grow without improving the lot of humanity.