Thursday, June 2, 2011

The New Consumerism

Yesterday I discussed Max Weber’s warnings about the dangers of “excessive attention to market-based thinking.”  The immediate manifestation of that attention, of course, is the rise of consumerism, which is why such intangibles as values and ideals dissolve into insignificance in the face of material goods.  Is there any comfort in the evidence that our strongest economic rival (and holder of so much our debt), the People’s Republic of China, should be running into exactly the same unpleasant consequences of consumerism?

Consider the following story by Pan Zheng, reproduced in its entirely (to avoid any accusations of biased editing) from the online edition of the Shanghai Daily:

A 17-year-old student in Anhui Province sold one of his kidneys for 20,000 yuan only to buy an iPad 2. Now, with his health getting worse, the boy is feeling regret but it is too late, the Global Times reported today.

"I wanted to buy an iPad 2 but could not afford it," said the boy surnamed Zheng in Huaishan City. "A broker contacted me on the Internet and said he could help me sell one kidney for 20,000 yuan."

On April 28 Zheng went to Chenzhou City in neighboring Hunan Province for the kidney removal surgery arranged by the broker. His parents knew nothing about it, Zheng said. He was paid 22,000 yuan after his right kidney was taken out at the Chenzhou No. 198 Hospital.

When he returned home, his mother found out and reported to the police immediately. But they could not locate the broker whose cell phone was always powered off, the report said.

It turned out that the Chenzhou No. 198 Hospital was not qualified to perform organ transplant. The hospital claimed they had no idea about Zheng's surgery because the department that did the surgery had been contracted to a Fujian businessman.

The case is still under investigation, the report said.

Scott Edelman, in a post to his Blastr blog for The Syfy Online Network, felt that this all deserved a sarcastic punch line:

Hey, Steve Jobs! Since the kid showed such Apple love, can you make sure you get him a freebie when the iPad 3 comes out? We don't want Zheng tempted to sell that other kidney!

I prefer to conclude that consumerism is more powerful than the entire ideological armory of the Chinese Communist Party.  Somehow I would have thought that Chinese Communism would be a tougher nut to crack than our own political system, whose market-based roots reach back to its Colonial origins.  I guess the Internet really does change everything!

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