Though we often think the modern culture of consumerism is an export from United States and a product of capitalism, people long before today’s era were enjoying the benefit of soft shoes, beautiful cloth and exceptional goods. Acquisition has been an important part of community and identity, essential to societies even though only recently so many people have been part of a middle class, capable of affording the mass consumption of today’s world. What insights can we glean from the history of consumption and economic thought for what it means to be human?

In Extraenvironmentalist #95 we first speak with Professor Frank Trentmann about his new book Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First. We hear from Frank about how we’ve come to live with so much stuff. Then, we talk to Professor Laurence Malone about his work and teaching on Adam Smith and in editing the Essential Adam Smith. Dr. Malone helps us understand the real meaning of the invisible hand