Constraining Consumption |

Constraining Consumption

20111020_Chandran_Nair_06w170On October 20 2011, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy hosted a public lecture on “Consumptionomics: Asia’s Role in Reshaping Capitalism and Saving the Planet” by Mr. Chandran Nair, chief executive of the Global Institute for Tomorrow. Nair was in Singapore to promote his new book, Consumptionomics, which was released earlier this year.

Consumptionomics is about Asia’s changing patterns of consumption. With the rapid increase in population in Asia, which accounts for 60 per cent of the world’s population, the region needs more cars, fuel and food to sustain its growth. But, this increase in demands creates a strain on the world’s resources. The key to sustainability, therefore, Nair says, is limited consumption-led economic growth. 

Limited consumption-led economic growth rejects the individualist Western ideal of ‘bigger’ and ‘cheaper.’ It expounds a more centralised form of government with decision-making for the collective welfare of society. Nair also talked about banning some forms of consumption, like heavily processed or chemical-laden foods. These, he said, are dangerously changing our concept of ‘innovation’ and ‘technology’ as well as harming our bodies.

Nair was also vocal about the under-pricing of resources. For him, many of the world’s resources, including rare earths, are severely under-priced, in keeping with the “competitive advantage.” Using the example of a cell-phone being more affordable and widely available in India than a bathroom, he urges a shift in priorities and calls for a re-pricing of natural resources to solve resource constraints. This would be key to sustaining the world’s stocks, he says.

To bring about a change in values, Nair feels there is a need to re-educate Asians who travel abroad for work or study. By experiencing the Western ideal, they are “intellectually regurgitating” liberalist Western ideology and applying it to traditional Asia. But he cautions that these ideas could have a negative environmental impact. For him, unlimited consumption is unsustainable.

Finally, Nair calls for a policy overhaul to limit what we consume, how fairly we consume and the price we pay to consume. In doing so, he says, we can create a more sustainable world for everyone to live in.


By Asha Rampersad, a Master in Public Policy student at the LKY School.


The western model of consumption-led economic growth cannot be replicated in Asia, according to Chandran Nair. Instead, Mr. Nair offers an alternative paradigm for governments, business leaders, and academics to consider. He argues that economic policy needs to be realigned; to avoid the catastrophic outcomes that could result from the relentless promotion of a consumption-led growth model in Asia, at a time when resource constraints are only too apparent. His book Consumptionomics calls for bans on some forms of consumption, re-pricing of resources and for the state to play a bigger role.

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Mr. Chandran Nair, Founder and Chief Executive, Global Institute For Tomorrow (GIFT)

Thursday, 20 October 2011
12.15 p.m. - 1.30 p.m.

Seminar Room 2-1
Level 2, Manasseh Meyer
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
469C Bukit Timah Road
Singapore 259772

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