Rather than empower consumers, then, they are obliged to insist that consumers are weak, helpless without the interventions of their Lord Protectors. After all, if it could be left to the impersonal forces of the market, what reason would there be to elect one part over the other?
An interesting analysis, as always, by Andrew Coyne - but one that doesn't go far enough.
Coyne appears to favour a completely unfettered free market that puts consumers first in fact, rather than in theory. Laissez-faire capitalism, in other words, with consumers expecting the best of everything at the time they want it and producers competing for business, creating market balance.
A theoretically "free" market may be impersonal, but it's also predicated on rules of economic theory - not human neurochemistry, i.e. behaviour. This is why we find ourselves swinging back and forth between variations on the same political conundrums in cycle. It's also why our current societal model is unsustainable.
Healthcare is an easy example. If I'm outsourcing my healthcare, I'm not caring for it myself. If I'm a laissez-fair employer, I've bought my workers' labour, so they better deliver - it's up to them to buy their healthcare on their own time. If I'm government and I figure it's up to the market to sort out healthcare, I cut and run, helping reduce my financial costs.
But then people don't take care of themselves.
Healthcare is preventative, but consumerism is about what I can get, not what I can prevent.
Consumerism is about ownership of stuff, not about maintenance. If you skip out on health now, you can always buy a fix down the road, right? But only if you're wealthy enough, which means working harder now.
When nobody is investing in health - those with the least amount of disposable income in particular - people get sick. Untreated sick people who have to keep interacting with society to function economically function less efficiently, spread contagion and put the whole at risk.
And that's just healthcare. It gets even worse when you look at poverty management, environmental (natural and constructed) maintenance and issues of justice.
We're at a point where the configuration of our current social model simply isn't adequate to the challenges it faces, and it's apparent that the political survivors calling the policy shots have no idea where to go next.
It not just about the economy. It's about culture of entitlement it evokes. We can choose to remain ignorant to this fact, but the rules of behavioural economics are like evolution that way - it doesn't matter if you believe in them or not.
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