We are currently living in a culture that is growing at the rate that only seven planets could sustain (Stiglitz, J.). Even though almost unchecked capitalism may have benefits initially, when the world is no longer able to sustain the level of growth we are currently experiencing then the economic problems will be felt in a very dramatic manner.
From my point of view, the American way of life seems to be fast and technology driven, at this point. The latest gadgets are coveted, youth is seemingly more important than elders, and there is this sort of keeping up with the Joneses mentality. I think if you buy into consumerism, then there is a chance for a major economic downfall. And, if you buy into the media telling you how you should look or feel, that leads to a lack of individualistic principals.
The consumption culture we have been ensnared in, since the 1950's, is leading to a global "race to the bottom". It has economic ramifications across the globe, as workers are over-worked and under-paid. Furthermore, this consumption culture is leading the United States economy to stop producing actual substantial products for domestic sale and export. It has real and tangible effects on United States workers, as production plants close and people lose their homes.
The American population uses approximately 25% of the world's resources, while only representing 5% of the population. The American way of consumption, regardless of the consequences to the environment or to the sustainability of the world's economy, needs to be evaluated anew. Over the past 30 years, the gap between rich and poor has consistently grown wider, due in large part to unfettered capitalism that allows corporations to trample the concerns of the population at large.
Embracing the American way of life and enjoying the experiences we come to associate with living as Americans is a costly adventure. Americans stereotypically value material possessions and are willing to part with the almighty dollar to keep up appearances. For many Americans, wealth and status are symbolic of success, and many Americans are willing to pay cold hard cash to give the appearance, whether real or false, of having achieved the American dream.
Americans desire to live in luxury. But, in order to live in luxury, someone else must live in poverty. In order for one person to have a lot of money, someone else has to have little money. The cost of living the "American way of life" is very high. We live in great surplus, compared to our needs to survive. As a result, people in other countries are paid in pennies for long hours and hard work, so that we may buy unnecessary luxuries for our homes and bodies for low prices.
The American way of life is too much influenced by slick advertising that convinces people that they have to obtain things that they cannot afford and do not really need to have a fulfilling life. Especially during the hard economic times that we are facing now, it is not wise to go into debt for things that you cannot afford and don't really need. Many people are facing debt that they cannot pay and this has a bad affect on the economy. We as Americans would all be better off if we learned to live within our means. Going back to a simpler life has its advantages both on personal finances and living with a reduced stress level.
Americans live by a standard that is much higher than most other countries. When immigrants come to the United States for the American dream they do not realize there is a price tag attached. Name brand clothes, dining out and vacations are part of the American way of life. "Bigger is better" is how many Americans live, and bigger also brings a bigger price.
All one has to look at is the American dependence on oil (which does everything from fueling our cars to producing our plastics) to understand that the American way of life, in so far as it is consumption driven, is not a sustainable way of life. We have at least one current war to prove it. In addition, the disparity between rich and poor is greater than at any time since the Great Depression. Societies with that kind of disparity have not fared well historically.
The downsides of this one are accepting a higher risk that if you are not one of the more successful people in society, you will have less access to necessities like health care or luxuries like higher education or public transportation. That doesn't mean that the American way of life isn't worth it, only that there are some drawbacks to certain members of society.
The American way of life is "work hard for what you want out of life and it can be within your reach." Having that attitude can only contribute to the economy. The current troubles in our economy are not connected to the American way of life but are a result of greed on the part of corporations. Corporations have twisted the American way of life by overdeveloping and overpromising for their own selfish interests.
I think that consumerism is a big problem in American but I also believe that many people reject it as a way of living and have made decisions to live more simply. To me, the American way of life is about freedom, caring for others, promoting equity and peace in addition to spreading justice to those who lack it. We can live well in this country without spending ourselves into a giant hole.
There is no economic downside to embracing the American way of life because you have the opportunity to make money if you choose to work hard. By "American way of life" in this question, one is left to assume this discussion is one related to capitalism and democracy. If this is the case, the "American way of life" gives someone the opportunity to choose what he or she wants to do for a living and make the corresponding amount of money.