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Comic Strip Politics » Blog Archive » The Blindfold of Consumer Apathy

The Blindfold of Consumer Apathy

The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee - 01.30.07

This comic strip often has a politically-themed punchline, but I rarely find it to be humorous. This particular strip is kind of funny, and it focuses on two things:

- The idea that corporations are only looking out for their own interests and will take advantage of anyone they can without caring one bit about their customers.

- The idea that consumers are so apathetic, they don’t notice or care that the companies are taking advantage of them in this way.

I think there is some truth to both of these ideas, but primarily the second one. Let me explain.

A company’s responsibility is to generate profits, particularly if the company is publicly owned. Obviously, all companies should act in an ethical way. That goes without saying. But to expect the company to be altruistic for no other reason than “to be nice” is a bit much. Some companies choose to be very socially aware, and some choose not to be. Joe consumer can easily support or reprove a company’s actions when the decide where to spend their money.
In a free market, nothing is more important to a company than it’s reputation. With the recent discovery of e. coli in Peter Pan peanut butter, consumers will be wary of that product for years, even though current batches are almost certainly safe. One bad batch of peanut butter will affect the profitability of ConAgra Foods for a very long time, as well it should. Other companies are taking note of the backlash generated here. If customers completely shun ConAgra’s brands, it will send a message to other companies; If you cut corners, and something bad happens, it will affect your profitability for ever.

If consumers simply don’t care, and go back to their normal shopping habits quickly, it will also send a message to other companies; Consumers don’t care enough to change their buying habits, even after hundreds of customers getting sick. There’s little reason to change the status quo.
As far as consumer apathy, I think it’s driven by downright laziness of the American public, not just in and of itself, but also in the desire of regular Joes to rely on the government to watch out for them, so they don’t have to bother being proactive themselves.

Too many times, I’ve heard people tell me how “evil” Walmart is and how the government should crack down on some of their practices, yet the very same people shop at Walmart, drawn in by their low prices. Every one of us has the power of the pocketbook, yet we rarely use it. If you feel strongly about Walmart’s hiring practices/low wages/limited health care/etc. being substandard, don’t shop there! Tell your friends not to shop there, and tell them why they shouldn’t. To just sit back and say “The government should do something about Walmart” is beyond ridiculous.

A corporation’s primary goal is to be profitable. If a company cuts corners in an unethical way to help them reach that goal, punishing them is as easy as taking your business elsewhere. Yet somehow, that’s too hard for most Americans.

It truly amazes me how apathetic Americans have become when it comes to being educated and proactive consumers. They want to rely on the government to regulate every industry for them, so they don’t have to think for themselves. Oftentimes, the regulation does little more than make companies jump through hoops, driving up the cost of goods and services for consumers.

So what do you think? Is consumer apathy making it easy for companies to screw over the American public, or is it allowing the government to regulate us to death? or both? or neither?

Do you think the government should be allowed to dictate how much a company spends on healthcare, or how much they pay employees, or who they hire? If so, do you think the same requirements should apply to small business with 5-10 employees for example? Is there a difference? Why or why not?

Lots of questions. I look forward to your comments.

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