The Conflicted Consumer | | AlterNet
Wednesday September 26, 2007 4:51 am Leave a comment
The major rationalisation for “free market capitalism” is based on the myths of what economists call “perfect competition” and “perfect information”, neither of which exist in the real world. I am composing a detailed analysis of this which isn’t yet ready for publication but I’d like to share one of the ideas I’ve come up with.
In short, the rationale for free market capitalism would work IF we really did have “perfect information”. In other words, if we knew EVERYTHING about the products on offer, we could make intelligent and ETHICAL choices about which ones we wanted to buy.
Capitalists and economists pretend that (almost) the only thing that determines our choices is price. This is naive simplistic nonsense. It is only true for the poorest buyers in the market whose budget does not permit other factors to intrude. Once you can afford, for example, to base your choice on quality rather than price, you are also able (and increasingly willing) to consider other factors, such as the ecological cost of the product and the share of the profit which goes to the workers who created it.
The kind of question I would want to ask, for example, in choosing between coffee beans, is “How much money do the farmer and bean pickers make?”, “How much money do the workers selling me this product make?” as well as “What are the environmental costs?” and so on. My gut feeling is that the first chain of superstores who start displaying that sort of information (or at least making it available, for those who care, on their websites) will quickly attract a large percentage of the “ethical buyers” in the market place. And I suspect that those “ethical buyers” are a large and growing minority of the market place.