Do you feel limited in your choices as a consumer or an individual in society, powerless in the face of big corporations and governments that never listen or do the right thing? Do you wish the world was a fairer and more harmonious place, with less uncertainty and less poverty? If the answer is yes the good news is you have the power to make a difference, all you have to do is become more conscious of your consumption habits and influence the wheels of capitalism, so they work more in your favour. In this article, there are some ideas about how we can change the world by simply changing our habits.
Adam Smith, the progenitor of modern economics, described the ‘invisible hand,’ of market forces that creates supply according to the demand for goods and services.
If the weather is scorching, the shops soon run out of ice-cream, and more has to be produced; this also increases the price of ice-cream because it is less available. Conversely, during a cold snap, people don’t tend to eat ice-cream, so the price goes up — supply outstrips demand.
When the production of goods and services is equal to the demand for them, the market is said to be in equilibrium.
According to Adam Smith, it is inefficient to trade for the public good; only public demand and market forces shape the real face of the economy — in other words, natural market forces. It’s with this in mind that we can think about changing our demand and shaping those market forces based on our power as consumers.
Conscious consumerism, in part, is about increasing the market supply of ethically sourced and ethically produced goods and services by increasing the demand for them. In short, the demand for ethical goods will be higher if consumers opt for responsible products over unethical alternatives.
Ever since the industrial revolution capitalism has gone from strength to strength, eclipsing other social and economic philosophies to instil itself as the only operable global system.
It has many opponents who view it as a great evil and blight on humanity. For many people, it is the main reason the world is in such a mess, responsible for excessive wealth, extreme poverty, environmental destruction, and global warming.
But is capitalism to blame, or is it the way we use it? It’s easy to think of capitalism as a great evil, but maybe it’s more of an A-moral technology.
The driving force behind capitalism is the free market economy as outlined by Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations. As unconscious consumers, you might say it is us that’s to blame for the state of the planet.
It’s our unconscious behaviour that creates the demand for products manufactured in sweatshops and makes from low-quality unsustainable materials. But it doesn’t have to be the case.
By accepting our responsibility as consumers within a capitalist system, we have more power than we realise. It is our choices that will shape future market forces.
With social media and digital technologies, the world has become even smaller than it was before and more dense with information. Unless we take a digital holiday now and again, we might go crazy with all the media stories zooming into our brains.
The result of this is an increase in awareness. We feel closer to people in the far-flung corners of the world than we ever did in the past. Their world is our world; we live in the same world and face the same issue and opposing forces.
Well, perhaps not quite the same.
It’s an easy thing to say from the privilege of a desktop computer. The truth is that the majority of the world lives in poverty – two-thirds of us live on less than 10 dollars per day, not to mention the half a billion people projected to live in extreme poverty by 2030.
If this is the result of capitalist technology, then maybe it is time to adapt. By growing our awareness of global issues and acting on that awareness, we can begin to make a difference.
When given a choice between one of two candidates who look and sound exactly alike, it can be challenging to make up your mind – many people don’t and decide that it makes no difference anyway.
They might be right, but their decision not to pick a side is also a political stance that can influence the outcome of elections. If there are not enough people to support the left candidate, the right one will get in, usually.
The point here is that all decisions we make in society have an equal and opposite effect, even if it is unintended.
There is more significant pressure on governments now to invest in environmental infrastructure and sustainable policies. It can’t come soon enough, but it also didn’t happen in a vacuum. Without the consumer demand for electric vehicles or green energy, environmental changes would still be lagging.
‘Pure democracy’ might only exist in the mind of an idealist, but the idea that consumer demand can influence governments more effectively than a ballot slip should undoubtedly be considered.
Living Your Values
Regardless of what your political beliefs are or your consumption habits, most people would agree that the world could be a better place. They might also agree that it would be a better place if it were fairer, more equal and more sustainable.
According to one survey, 73% of global consumers say that they would definitely, or probably, change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.
This might mean buying less plastic products, more fair trade products, and more locally produced products. It might also mean buying more clothing second hand and researching the supply chains of products before purchase.
This is becoming easier to do with websites like Ethical Consumer.
Of course, it may not be possible to transform our lifestyle habits overnight to align with our values. Still, if we keep the idea of conscious consumerism in mind when we’re in the supermarket or shopping online, it will start to take shape.
The more consumers demand that companies behave ethically, the more likely they are to be conscious in their business decisions. Hopefully, more ethically minded companies will enjoy a more significant market share.