Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Here's something on the idea of "Consumer Choice"

Max Lerner, a prominent writer wrote this bit of culture studies --- a part of the culture of the fifties. He is writing on "America as a Civilization." Capitalism comprises one section in the book.

"At the other end of the capitalist process there are millions of decisions made by the consumer: production and investment policies [are at one end, while the consumer, at the other end, makes decisions about what to do with] "their money and for what."

It is quite understandable that Mr. Lerner (he is an not economist, by the way, but a social philosopher and a cultural critic; and a journalist) would believe this. His book, "America as a Civ...", is excellent, but the more recent history of capitalism belies this appoach of his from the 1950's. Now we can see that human beings tend to act as a herd; they are easily manipulated and do not make demands. They do not practice spontaneous demanding; "consumer demand" is ideology, rather than reality. They don't make these "demands" that theorists attribute to them. They don't make these "decisions" that impact economics, as this liberal commentator is discussing in 1957, not for anything beyond minimal human needs. This is obvious. I observe life in urban areas today where "consumer choices" are extremely, extremely limited. But what is choice?

That's a good question. The real choice is whether to have a society at all. Will there be a society? A: Yes. Sorry, conservatives: it's quite necessary. We must have one. We do so through capitalism. This is a part of the story of our civilization.

So, yes: capitalism is choice. What kind of capitalism do we want? --- one where your choice is about whether to buy food at the gas station or else maybe pay $29.99 for a small chunk of cheese in a gourmet shop? (Yes, I saw this, at a gourmet shop across the street from the WI state capitol. Who buys that stuff?)

What about the choice between having choices and not having choices? Where does that fit in? "Choice." Funny word, that. Lerner speaks, too, of the "capitalist process." He then says it has "two ends," and I think that on one of these are the elites, having their own freedom, which does in fact mean freedom to choose (Milton Friedman likes this too, along with his wife, Rose Friedman) ---- and on the other are the people of that country (where we have, according to 1957ish Max Lerner, America as a civilization).

And today, regionalism itself is vanishing (you can see this too, all around you). We have globalization (if you care). Are the people of this earth -- this globe -- to receive some of the fruits of the capitalist society; or are they not? The alternative, (under a globalized system is, I would think,) genocide. This is the real "choice" in capitalism. It is not a choice based on millions of "consumer decisions." That is as a person like Lerner honestly believed, though, at one time.

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