The recent rise of socialism (within the past decade or so) is baffling to those of us who saw the results of the Soviet Union and its consequences across Europe. We held out hopes that it had died with the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, it has risen again as a prominent ideology, even in the US. But, there is something beyond simply getting a generation removed from the Soviet collapse that encourages socialist thinking. There are more deep-seeded reasons for the surge in socialism’s popularity. One of those reasons is consumerism carries more than its fair share of the burden in creating such feelings of entitlement to “free” stuff. I’m certain consumerism has contributed in many counties to socialist leanings, but because my experience is mostly limited to the US, that is what I will discuss.
Over the course of the past 40 years or so, there have been enormous amounts of legislation targeted at making life easier for the consumer. They have all been well-meaning and well-intentioned, but like any good drug, they have side effects. For example, I was extremely grateful when there was a national registry available that would make it illegal for companies with which I have not done business to solicit my phone without authorization. The days of dinner being interrupted by obnoxious telemarketers was mostly over. But, such things have a negative side effect – perhaps not directly – but over time, there becomes an expectation that it is an individual’s right to not be hassled by marketing. Now, that “do not call” registry is nearly obsolete with more effective and more cost efficient means of marketing, but it is one tiny piece of state involvement with unintended consequences, and I would certainly not lay the blame on consumerism simply on this one tiny example.
Since the 1970s, American government has increasingly pursued the idea of protecting consumers against unpleasant experiences, as opposed to the sorts of fraud and theft with which government should concern itself. Having grown up in retail, and having experienced the reactions and attitudes of consumers my entire life, I have never experienced an era of greater entitlement than exists now. Expectations have come to a point beyond what most retailers can deliver, and where consumers used to be a little frustrated when things wouldn’t work out the way they like, now they pound their fists on the counter and demand their “rights” as a consumer. There is a general attitude that the expenditure of money entitles consumers not just to what the business has promised, but also for their entire shopping experience to be exactly the way they want it, without exception, whether promised by the business or not.
A government should have no authority over the pleasantness of the experience for consumers. As annoying and aggravating as it is, you have no right to demand a business accommodate your every whim. You have a right to demand that an agreement be fulfilled to the terms by which it was established. In terms of natural rights, you are not entitled for a business to even serve you at all for whatever you deem your special case to be. A business is under no obligation to operate according to your wants or needs, or by any accommodations you believe are necessary. You choose which businesses with which you choose to purchase from, and equally, those businesses can choose how they plan to operate and whether you are their target customer. Yes, there is unfairness in it, but it is the best available model.
What does consumerism have to do with the erosion of capitalism? When people begin to believe they are entitled to whatever conveniences and experiences they desire from businesses, the demands of consumers evolve, and are codified, into regulations. Over time, this leads to a need for government to simply acquire segments of the economy in an effort to provide the stated desires of consumers, or to regulate commerce to such an extent that some businesses may have to close down. Though government has never performed well as a supplier of goods and services, it is a natural progression of inviting government into the market when consumers demand “protections” from things other than fraud or theft.
Consumerism has led to the belief that government can and should protect pleasantness and the consumer experience, and this has been a root cause in the belief, by extension, that people are entitled to all sorts of services, simply by virtue of existing. If I come to believe that businesses owe me whatever experience I desire, then, over time, I begin to believe that I am owed services whether I pay for them or not, and even whether promised or not. There is a direct correlation to the rise of consumerism and the desire for socialism. The belief that services are implied by virtue of conducting business leads to the belief that services are owed for free, and are “rights.”
All sorts of things about how we experience commerce as consumers can get annoying and aggravating. The vast majority of our negative experiences come not from the fault of the businesses with which we are dealing, but more often have to do with a lack of an ability to see the broader picture. We think that being a consumer makes us an expert on how a business should operate, regardless of knowing anything specific about the reasons the business has chosen its methods of operation. However, beyond our ignorance as consumers, inviting government to regulate our experiences, or pounding your fist on a counter or yelling for your “rights” as a consumer in a store, is not a benefit for capitalism. Consumerism is killing capitalism by eroding the idea of what constitutes rights versus simply taking your business elsewhere when you don’t have the consumer experience you desire. You do have every right to do business with whomever you choose and can pick the one which gives you the most pleasant experience, but you do not have the right to demand businesses act according to your whims, thus inviting socialist tendencies into the marketplace.
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