We cannot escape awareness of the polluting effect of inequality on our electoral process. The energy of political candidates must be focused on finding a billionaire or system of big-money bundlers to finance their political pitches. News of Senator Rubio’s billionaire, Scott Walker’s dependence on the Koch family, or Secretary Clinton’s link to Frank Giustra, a Canadian mining magnate have no shock value anymore.
But no less pervasive nor pernicious are the expensive PR and promotional efforts designed to teach consumers what they should be purchasing. Market mavens create an image of markets as the passive servants of consumer whims. In other words, the conventional wisdom is that firms are the vassals; consumers are sovereign. That portrait is essential to the moral case for capitalism as a consumer driven method of allocating scarce resources. Few would tolerate a social/political process ordered to accelerate the successes of sellers. But PRODUCER sovereignty is the predominant explanation for why we purchase so much of particular “stuff.”
Talented persuaders, for example, have crafted advertisements to teach consumers to waste their money and, as an aftereffect, to tarnish our ecosystem by purchasing bottled water. These efforts go far beyond simply announcing that bottled water exists. Those pushing these purchases know all too well that replacing the desirability of simply drinking water from a faucet with purchasing outrageously priced water in a bottle requires expensive brain rewiring.
Creating customer desire for high-profit items is loud evidence of power relationships made possible by the encouragement of stark inequality. Consumers have no equivalent organized, focused voice reflecting their collective need for accurate information and a market scenario where they are encouraged to purchase based on their reflections about what is optimally in their long-run interests as well as those of their loved ones.
To then defend existing power imbalances as the fruit of freedom is to mask patterns of domination in layers of cynicism.