As the third millennium gets underway, an explosion of cultural and scientific information seems to call for occupational specialization.
The costs of proceeding down this road are worth thinking about:
- specialists are (by definition) functionally ignorant of stuff going on beyond post descriptions or areas of competence.
- On the ought implies can dictum, such specialists are absolved of responsibility. Responsibility cannot be piecemeal. One cannot be a little pregnant.
- Mankind is capable of astonishing feats, including the capacity to kill everything on the planet many times over. This has been achieved by organizing specialists in cunning ways.
- Although specialists acknowledge responsibility for what they get up to as police officers or tax collectors,few of us have any sense of responsibility for what human beings are getting up to collectively.
Another problem involves the world's astounding and still increasing inequity. These inequities are already having political stability and terrorism consequences but are even more worrisome for future populations.
- Billions of people hope to reproduce the prosperity western nations have been enjoying.
- They need to ask: If wealthy nations cannot sustain and expand existing middle class prosperity, how can poor nation populations plausibly hope for their day in the sun?
In the face of these realities, we need to look at the way commerce has been conducted since the Industrial Revolution. For more than a century, people have been abandoning subsistence activities, local economies and national economic self-sufficiency. Consumers everywhere are tormented by increasingly expensive marketing stratagems that they are then forced to pay for in the costs of goods and services.
In a rational world, individuals and communities would be as self-sufficient as their wits and technologies allowed. Shoppers would then purchase sophisticated goods and services when needs arose. They would not 'go shopping' just because they had heard that retailer A was overstocked or going bankrupt. They would not devote a week or more every year pawing through advertisements hoping to find some product or service at distress sale prices.
Part of the solution to this needless, environmentally-expensive debacle is as close as your phone or some (not yet available) 'team shopping' app:
- Consumers need to get in touch with another and arrange to do group shopping.
- Organised into platoons of a dozen, a hundred, a thousand ... consumers could negotiate with retailers from positions of strength.
This would reduce inflation problems, rationalize promotional activities and reduce environmental footprints.
Such shoppers would enjoy benefits far in excess of dollars saved at check-out counters.
A simple calculation demonstrates the multiplier benefits involved. If team shoppers saved $1000.00 per person per year, what wage increase might this be compared with?
- Monies saved are not taxable. Canadians typically work 6 months of the year before 'tax freedom' day is reached. Therefore, $1000.00 saved = $2000.00 of pre-tax income.
- To earn this $2000.00, individuals must cover employment 'operating expenses' – food, shelter, clothing, transportation. If these amount to $1000.00, individuals must earn a further $2000.00, again giving 1/2 over as taxes. Therefore, $1000.00 of savings = $4000.00 of gross income, when 'money in hand' becomes the bottom line.
- Every dollar saved through consumer unionism (or any other technique, including conservation) represents $4.00 of gross income.
The benefits just keep coming:
- If consumers saved $1000.00 annually through collective bargaining, further environmental benefits would occur as promotional efforts become presentations to consumer organizations.
- This communication channel among consumers and suppliers would be a better model for emerging nations.
- Such a rationalized production-distribution network would be more competitive. Canada is described as a vast, thinly-populated market. American marketing practices are inappropriate, given our population. The State of Texas has as many people as Canada.
A new resource - the Internet - makes consumer shopping even more important and accessible. Search engines and databases could instantly put individuals planning purchases in touch with one another. The resulting groups could invite suppliers to quote on their requirements. In addition, consumer unionism is a natural enlargement of traditional labour unionism. Trade unions could begin by organizing existing local members into consumer groups. These groups could include part-time and retired, laid off or fired workers.
What good is a union that only thinks about half of its members' needs, and is unavailable when most needed?
Labour unionism has been pitting workers against consumers during strikes and in the form of passed-along price increases. This unionism has been unwittingly divisive. Divided against one another ... and even within themselves ... people have been overlooking their need to have a systematic, organized say in the market place.
Team shopping, consumer unions, community databases of planned purchases ... could repair these failures.