You are what you buy; the morality of consumption


In “The Global Markets As An Ethical System”, Philosopher and ethicist  John McMurtry argues that there is no purchasing decision that does not itself imply some moral choice, and that there is no purchasing that is not ultimately moral in nature.

So, if you decide to buy a pair of shoes that costs $400 instead of buying a pair for $300 and sending the remaining $100 that clearly you have no serious need of to save several African childrens’ lives, you have made a fairly serious moral decision. Given that the extra $100 provided you with no functional improvement but instead maybe a style that you preferred or a brand that made you feel good, you have put these – lets face it – shallow  considerations ahead of the life of fellow humans.

Andrew Wilson, Director of the UK’s Ashridge Centre for Business and Society argues that “Shopping is more important than voting”, and others that the disposition of money is the most basic role we play in any system of economics. Some theorists believe that it is the clearest way that we express our actual moral choices, i.e., if we say we care about something but choose to spend discretionary money on things which don’t benefit or even harm it, we have shown through our hypocrisy that don’t really care about it.

This is something many of us do every day, which is pretty nuts if you think about it. Even more disturbing is that if we stop doing it our economic system collapses, so reliant is it on maintaining current levels of consumption at any cost. The widespread application of moral criteria to consumption would require a shift away from commodity markets towards a deeper service economy where all activities, from growing to harvesting to processing to delivery, are considered part of the value chain and for which consumers are “responsible”.

But consumers would need to drive such change.

Perhaps there are more constructive things consumers can do than  of getting 0utraged about Gap’s or Strabuck’s new logo. (Vehement consumer response forced Gap to trash its new logo design).

Boycott a retailer because you don’t like its new logo but don’t worry about its workplace practices, its ethical behaviour, its carbon footprint, its recycling programs, its investment decisions? What does this say about us?

For those interested in ethical or conscious consumption you could start here.

 

Thanks treehugger.com for the images

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