As Madonna sang, we’re living in a material world. We live in a capitalist economic system with a consumerist society where we are constantly bombarded with advertising. We can probably all agree that the current way of things isn’t great, but what do we do about it? That’s where we may have different ideas.
I’m firmly left of centre on the political spectrum, so that’s part of my worldview. However, I’ve noticed that, when it comes to capitalism, I seem to be a stronger believer in apportioning individual responsibility than some of my blogging friends.
That doesn’t mean I think corporations should have free rein. We can think that corporations are evil, but the basis of capitalism is that corporations exist to make a profit. We probably shouldn’t be surprised when they act in ways that are consistent with that. Similarly, we probably shouldn’t expect them to voluntarily behave in ways that aren’t in accordance with that.
I think that constraint needs to come primarily from the outside, be that government regulation or consumers voting with their wallets. I’m all for appropriate government regulation. Corporations need to be held accountable for potential harmful acts, and that’s where government needs to step in.
I’d really like to see a cap on the ratio between the top corporate earners and the lowest (or average) wage earned. That way, for CEOs to earn big, they’d have to pay good wages all the way down the pay scale. In my mind, that would be better than an executive compensation limit, as it would preserve the incentive to perform, but broaden the benefit. However, I know diddly squat about economics, so I haven’t got the slightest clue if that’s workable.
I would also like to see universal basic income, and I would like to see corporations have to contribute to that system before paying out to their shareholders.
Where my left-wing colours really show through is my belief that essential services should either be publicly operated or well-regulated to ensure that public interest takes precedence over profitability. When essentials operate for profit, you see things like the mess in Texas with its mess of a power grid. Essential health services should not be operated on a for-profit basis. Corporations can’t be expected to operate on a break-even basis, so that’s where governments and non-profits need to come in.
I don’t think government regulation is enough, though. I think that as consumers, we also need to take individual responsibility for our behaviour. Sure, we’re being pushed to consume, consume, consume, but that doesn’t mean we have to do it. People may feel pressured by advertising, keeping up with the Joneses (essentially FOMO), and what have you to get a luxury vehicle that they can’t actually afford; however, that doesn’t mean they have to do it. Now, there are absolutely people who don’t have the money to afford transportation at all, but that’s a different issue.
The Marie Kondo idea that your stuff should spark joy is interesting, in that it encourages you not to have a lot of unnecessary stuff, but it also suggests that possessions should have a joy value beyond a utilitarian value. I’m fairly non-materialist, so for me, most of my stuff is not about joy; it’s about what serves a purpose and makes it easier to do the things that I want to do.
My now-former in-person friend is a doofus when it comes to money. He was leasing an Audi SUV at his old job before he graduated nursing school. The vast majority of his monthly income went into that stupid car. His lease ran out around the time he graduated. I crunched some numbers for him and told him that if he purchased the Kia that he was kind of interested in instead, he’d likely save $20,000 by the end of the 5-year Audi lease, plus he’d have a vehicle that he owned at the end. What did he do? He leased a new Audi. Corporations should not be responsible for that kind of doofusness. If people choose to throw their money away, I’m inclined to think they need to take responsibility for it.
We have the power to resist
We’re faced with all kinds of advertising telling us to buy things. That doesn’t mean we have to buy them. Maybe it’s because my parents drilled cheapness into my head from an early age, but I don’t get too concerned about advertising, as long as it’s not getting in the way and making it difficult to do what I want to do. Advertising funds a lot of things that we use.
I’ve written before about how nothing is actually free, and it fascinates me how entitled we as a culture have become to getting things without paying for them. Did that exist before the internet age? If we expect to get useful services without paying money, we should own it that we’re paying with something else. That be our eyeballs on advertising, or, increasingly often, our information. It doesn’t have to be this way, and we can gripe about it ’til the cows come home, but if we want to continue to expect things for “free”, we are active participants in keeping this whole information-selling advertising-heavy juggernaut going.
So yeah, corporations are trying to make big money; that’s what they do and always will do in a capitalist system. But we’re not powerless as consumers. We’re also not powerless to at least attempt to get governments to intercede where it’s appropriate. Corporations may try to make pawns out of all us, but I’m bringing my queen to this corporate-consumer chess match. Screw pawns; I’m not willing to be one.
Where do you think responsibility should lie in reining in the excesses of capitalism in our material world?