5 responses to “The corporation and the long walk of obedience

  1. Rusty,

    You fail to distinguish between individual actions (shall I buy item x or item y) and trends. Trends (fashions) tend to get influenced by a whole swathe of issues (like the ones previously mentioned). While a single action holds onto the illusion of choice!

    In your opening paragraph you reiterate that you did mean to use the word SOLELY (definition: Entirely; exclusively) and yet you go onto say “yes, that judgement can be swayed by other factors”.

    Which is it? Is the “consumer” a neo-liberal wet-dream with perfect rational decision making power, or is the consumer influenced by highly sophisticated corporations and other influences? It is obviously somewhere in-between. What we are arguing about here is based on the experience of the predominantly western consumer. Few people would doubt, in terms of standard of life (happiness is another question), that rampant consumerism has made life better for them. What I have tried to question here however, is whether it has made life for us as good as we (they) think it has.

    This whole debate however, misses the crux of the original blog, which is saying that rampant consumerism is making life unbearable (literally life threatening) for about a sixth of the world (“The bottom billion”) and making life pretty shitty for another 2-4 billion. It is, at the same time, destroying our natural surroundings at such a pace that soon the impact will be felt by those who have previously benefited from this hugely unequal society. However much we get satisfaction out of our consumer choices, this has to be curtailed for these reasons…has it not?

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  2. I use the word SOLELY deliberately. Nobody holds a gun to the consumer’s head and forces them to buy anything – God knows, I wish that approach worked.

    You have to credit the consumer with some intelligence – we’re talking about a median here, because I know there will always be some idiots who will buy ANYTHING. Even the Guardian.

    The consumer is asked to make a judgment based on the value proposition in front of them. Yes, that judgment can be swayed by certain factors.

    Brand loyalty: Bob’s judgment of proposition x over proposition y is based on him having a positive experience with the manufacturer of proposition x in the first (and often second or third) places, which has a positive impact on the value of proposition x.

    Monopolies: The example you use is odd given that there are plenty of rivals to Windows. To avert the risk of turning this into nerd-fest, let me ask whether you feel people are turning away from the beige-box-in-the-conservatory approach to web browsing and toward the iPhone/Blackberry on-the-move approach. A portfolio of companies have presented ever-diversifying options as to best way to use computers to support the consumer’s lifestyle, perhaps in part because people were getting fed up with Windows. This is only one example but can be extrapolated to any market you choose.

    Fear and advertising: Very similar to my argument for brand loyalty. You have to attribute a modicum of intelligence to the consumer. If they are convinced enough by the fear factor, often conveyed through adverts, then their judment of the value proposition will be favourable. Otherwise, it won’t. Have you bought a loan consolidation product recently? Have I bought a Jeremy Clarkson musical bog roll holder because I saw it on QVC? (actually, come to mention it…) Even if we did, does that make us “wrong”? Who decides what we “do not need”?

    I do not suggest an un-critical obedience to the status quo – instead, I suggest thorough regulation and greater consumer awareness, such as is propagated by Martin Lewis’ Moneysavingexpert.com. Consumers should know their place in the value chain and should be fully aware that we are in an adversarial economic system.

    If you want a small and achievable suggestion for improvement, it would be to force companies to be more up-front about the origins of their proposition and its position relative to the competition. For example, two identically packaged chickens are in Tesco: one is £3.99, one is £5.99. Bob buys the £3.99 one. Channel 4 screens a documentary about chicken welfare, Tesco start being up-front about the welfare of their birds, and suddenly Bob’s value judgment is skewed, because ethically-reared chicken tastes nicer. He makes his value judgment based on more complete information. If this was applied to every product, would we still be in a position to criticise the large enterprises?

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  3. Rusty,

    I would question your use of the word SOLELY. Do you honestly believe that corporations create return for shareholders purely by creating value for customers or have I misunderstood you? If I have not misunderstood you, what about all aspects of economics that have no relation to customer value such as:

    Brand loyalty (keeping the car analogy alive…people become attached to certain brands of cars and will often stick with that despite better or cheaper alternatives being on the market)

    Monopolies – Do most people think about buying a PC with Windows on…or do they just accept it because it’s what they are used to? This way Microsoft has got away with releasing one sub-standard product after another!

    Fear – Insurance companies being the classic example here. Don’t get me wrong, some aspects of insurance are worthwhile and useful. Others are pushed onto consumers through utter fear. Here I am thinking about the Virgin Cancer insurance or lots of travel insurance even!

    Advertising of products (that people do not need but are convinced they want!) – This is a question of the use of the term “consumer value”. Do consumers really gain value from buying material rubbish they do not need? Just watch any shopping channel for a few seconds and you will see what I mean!

    You suggest that a “Fight the corporation” message is nihilistic. This could not be further from the truth. The consequences of un-critical obedience to the current norms peddled by corporate power, is having very real and very negative consequences. I am sure you would not disagree that economic norms of today are causing chaos around the world! The “Fight the corporation” message has to be expanded and made a bit more sophisticated, but I think it holds some basic truths.

    Assuming you agree that we cannot carry on with business as usual, I would be interested to hear where you would start the revolution that is needed (or to make it more palatable – how would you like to slowly change the system?)! The corporation has become the symbol and benefiter of neoliberal economics. I think attacking and highlighting the immorality that is so wide-spread of the corporation it is a reasonable place to start!

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  4. “The corporation does not always work in the interest of people. Remember the badly placed fuel tanks that Ford designed (the ones that blew up upon impact). Ford deemed it cheaper to cover the legal costs than to redesign the car. It took a high court ruling to stop that one. What’s the similarity between this and Rage? Both actions are motivated by the pursuit of money. ”

    But a company generates shareholder return SOLELY by creating value for clients. Otherwise, in an increasingly crowded consumer marketplace, we will shop elsewhere (as you suggest). Did the Pinto (the car with the dodgy fuel tanks), make Ford rich – or did they get rich by making cars people wanted to buy, like the Fiesta, Taurus or F150?

    Ethically generated shareholder return should be welcomed, both for the reason that it implies a company is producing goods that people want to buy or services they want to use, and because “shareholders”, like “motorists” and “revellers”, are not a separate species – they are a great many of us, or at least those of us who have a bank account. Because we all have to eat, drive, cover up our naughty bits (especially in this weather) and ultimately live, “Fight the corporation” will never be more than a token – and some would say nihilistic – gesture of defiance.

    My chosen token – and some would say nihilistic – gesture of defiance was to buy KITN twice. I couldn’t give a shit how much Cowell earns from it, I just wanted to make that snivelling northern choirboy cry.

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