consumerism and exploitation
March 14, 2005 5 Comments
Here are 2 important questions from (and for) the Left, broadly defined:
What is consumerism?
- What furious has to say over at furyblog:
As long as you’re comfortable it feels like freedom.
All of which to say, my question a while back about marketing was motivated by a profound sense that marketing generates a great deal of what is wrong (my humble) with our consumer-based culture.
- What I had to say over at the Austrian Forum:
[D]oes consumerism — the general culture that the Left decries — find its roots in government interventionism? I think the answer is yes and no, because we’re talking about two different things: (1) the culture of mass markets and mass consumption, which is genuinely a product of capitalism; (2) the culture of the credit card — the culture of artificially inflated time preference. Number 1 is what advocates of laissez faire should be ready to celebrate. Number 2 is what we should recognize as wealth-reducing, destructive, degenerative, and truly decadent in the old-fashioned use of the word.
What is exploitation?
So while leftists are right to insist that even voluntary transactions can be exploitative, libertarians are right to insist that even exploitative voluntary transactions should not be subject to state interference. (Though the child labor example is more complicated because of issues of child consent.) Moreover, as Carson demonstrates, the State engages in extensive direct, harmful, nonconsensual exploitation and it is also what makes possible much of the consensual, mutually advantageous exploitation in society.
- What I had to say over at BlackCrayon:
THE ABOLITION OF EXPLOITATION
Can leftists and libertarians find common ground in opposition to exploitation?
This essay proposes that a model for such common ground is the 19th-century Individualist Anarchism of Benjamin Tucker.
Individualist Anarchism sees the exploitation of certain groups or classes as the visible symptom of a deeper problem whose root cause is coercive monopoly. The individualist does not sanction the use of force to fight the symptom, but only to fight the coercive root cause itself. Non-coercive monopolies are to be opposed only through peaceful and cooperative means, such as innovation and education.
And perhaps a little more from my exploitation essay:
Is the prostitute’s situation “tainted with injustice”?
Only if, as Tucker would say, “the terms of contract are dictated to [her] disadvantage”. The question becomes, Does a coercive context force her to negotiate on unequal footing?
A woman in the 19th century may have had few alternatives for decent income. The woman of the 21st century, we hope, has fewer obstacles and more options. And if she doesn’t, then the question must be how to maximize her options — not how to limit her yet further. If anyone is reducing the prostitute’s options, it’s the coercive cops, not her contractual clients.
(For more on this particular issue, see McElroy’s excellent talk on “Selling Sexuality”.)