Sunday, December 23, 2007

We the Consumers" of the United States.

The LifeStraw -- a tool the size of a large pen which can turn any type of water, no matter how dirty, into drinking water -- is an example of the way capitalism was originally intended to operate according to Dr. Benjamin Barber, author of Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, The Vestergaard Frandsen Group created the LifeStraw as an answer to a real problem many third world countries encounter...filthy water.

That's the way capitalism is supposed to creating an atmosphere of competition where people are encouraged to find solutions to real problems or concerns, and then rewarding those who develop the best product or service with the potential to earn profits where the sky is the limit.

However, beginning in the early 20th century, capitalism gradually started to answer the real needs and wants of middle-class America. When industry saw that the average American's essential needs were satisfied, it realized it had better start introducing "needs" that average America was completely unaware they had, in order to sell their goods and services.

Commencing with the Reagan administration, an ideological shift to privatization occurred, making us believe that markets can solve everything. The mantra of the Reagan administration was "government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem" which continues to echo in the Bush Administration.

When Bush told America to go shopping after 9/11, he was really saying, "that's the only thing you can do to help...your power lies in the choices you make as consumers, leave the rest to us." His intention, when saying that, is to give us the false idea that we really do have power when in reality that power is very limited and it keeps "we the people" from interfering in any type of agenda he has.

From Reagan to Bush, the message is clear. Our role as a consumer supersedes everything else. We become so overwhelmed with all the choices available for stuff we really don't need or want, we have little time to act as citizens and we pay very little attention to issues that matter, only to filling that enormous black hole of imaginary needs created by unfettered capitalism allowed to spiral out of control.

What we need to realize is there is a fundamental distinction between the private power and freedom we have as consumers and the real power and the real freedom we can obtain from exercising our civic rights and responsibilities by working together to make the schools better; push for a media devoted to the public as well as their private responsibilities; make sure our tax dollars are allocated properly, etc. Then and only then can we reclaim our role as citizens and try and create a world where commerce does not consume our every waking moment.

Today we see that decision to expand middle class America's spectrum of needs and wants worked like a charm. Americans have an insatiable appetite for goods and services to the point where filling those artificial needs created by capitalism's raging success transformed "We the People" into "We the Consumer".

"Capitalism which started in the 15th and 16th century in Europe and in the 17th century in America was quite a remarkable system that harnessed self interest and altruism...and said if you can find a way to produce goods and services that answer the real core needs and wants of human beings you will improve society, increase prosperity and make a profit for yourself." -- Dr. Benjamin Barber


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