On the Problems of Consumerism

Consumerism is characterized by a strong mistrust (and sometime ignorance) of macroeconomics, a desire to include social costs and benefits in the valuation of products (instead of just price), and alacrity to take action to identify and remedy problems in the marketplace. Many modern consumer movements, such as the environmental, and the anti-GMO and organic food movements share characteristics of consumerism.

Some common critiques of consumerism include that it fails to identify the biggest problems facing buyers in the economy; that it rarely will engage in cost-benefit analysis to determine whether interventions are economical; that consumer advocates can readily find examples of bad or dangerous products, but these are just anecdotal and do not support a broad condemnation of the marketplace; that expertise is a mask for consumerists’ taste, which is anti-populist and anti-consumption; and finally, consumer advocates have never articulated a theoretical explanation for why the economy would produce unsafe products or services that consumers do not really want.[1]

[1] For a full articulation of these arguments, see Ralph K. Winter, The Consumer Advocate Versus the Consumer, in Consumerism: Search for the Consumer Interest (Aaker and Day, eds., 2nd. Ed. 1974).

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