One in Seven Adults hit by Mental Disorder:
According to a UK government report, one in seven adults suffers from clinical anxiety, clinical depression or some other psychological disorder. The study, conducted in the mid-90s, showed the most common problem was a mixed anxiety and depressive disorder, affecting 7% of the population.
(Source: The Independent, 15th December 1994).

Record Levels of Consumer Debt in US and UK:
Average debt per UK family: £6,000 and rising.
(Source: The Guardian, 29th September 2000).


C O N T R O L  S Y S T E M S

The Consumer-anxiety System

How do anxiety levels of the general population affect the volume of sales of consumer goods? Is there an optimum level of consumer anxiety (optimum from the point of view of the seller) at which the amount of sales of consumer goods is greatest?

This “optimum” level would obviously be somewhere between two extremes Ė at one end of the scale the consumer never buys anything because of being too scared to go outside or too anxious to spend more money than absolutely necessary. At the other end of the scale the person is so content already (ie complete lack of anxiety) that there is no compulsive need to consume and no desire to purchase status symbols.

Could this “optimum” level of anxiety be maintained against our wishes by the constant bombardment of impressions about the “real” world from the media networks? One example could be the constant focusing on crime in news, current affairs, drama, films, soap operas... everywhere.

In a society where everything is dominated by commercialism, the above mentioned “optimum” anxiety level will gradually manifest itself as a result of the pressure of all the structures and systems that are in place to maximise sales. For example, market research may determine, for an insurance company, that the best responses to a TV commercial were achieved when it was shown after a worrying TV programme about crime. The TV stations therefore increase the number of such programmes up to a point where market research indicates a downturn in consumer response.

It isnít just insurance and burglar alarm sales that benefit from public anxiety, however. Anxious people are inclined to eat and drink compulsively, need more distractions (newspapers, TV etc) and more propping-up of their fragile self-image through “lifestyle” products and status symbols.

They will even go into debt to acquire whatever items they are led to believe will quell their social-comparison anxieties. Exactly how much they will go into debt before their financial anxiety overrides their social-status anxiety is yet to be determined. Average consumer debt levels continue to rise, and financial services markets make it ever easier, and more socially acceptable, to go into debt.

Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan has reportedly said that insecure workers are vital to the health of the economy, since they keep inflation low (by being too scared to risk asking for wage increases).