Do individual consumers really have rational power and full liberty in consumer society? Consider both how Leach seems to answer that question, as well as your own assessment, based on what you...

Do individual consumers really have rational power and full liberty in consumer society? Consider both how Leach seems to answer that question, as well as your own assessment, based on what you learned from Leach's book. 

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Do individual consumers really have rational power and full liberty in consumer society?

Consumers' rational power refers to a concept that is employed in various models of economic theory. There are a number of economic theories, all of which define varying parameters of assumptions about what motivates consumer behavior. A generalized definition, a generic one applicable to a generic economic model, is that consumer rationality is a function of the economic model being used to attempt to predict consumer behavior. A common assumption in economic models is that seeking the lowest price of a good is rational consumer behavior therefore a demonstration of consumers' rational power. Since this is a concept used in predictive theory, it has inherent flaws underlying it. Some recent advances in psychology, anthropology, biology, and neurology prove that consumer action is not always accompanied by rational choices (Derek Thompson, "The Irrational Consumer," TheAtlantic.com).

Consumers' full liberty is a concept relating to the effect of social and economic pressures upon the consumer. If the consumer has full liberty, they will be unswayed, unpersuaded by social and economic pressures that they do agree with and would not otherwise seek out and endorse. To illustrate the concept, advertising experts agree that even the hearing or viewing of an advertisement elicits one of four types of response whether the responder yields to manipulation or not. They make the point that, to some extent, anyone exposed to social or economic pressures, such as occur in advertising, is influenced in how they act (whether favorably or unfavorably). There is an ethical debate ongoing about whether, in a progressive (more goods next year than this) capitalistic consumer oriented society, like America, the consumer, indeed, has liberty at all.

How does Leach seem to answer the question?

The distillation of the point that Leach makes in Land of Desire is that, for a set of complex reasons arising from a complex of social circumstances, progressive capitalistic consumer-driven democracy, with monetary value being the measure of all values, has robbed people of the right to define themselves as anything but consumers; has robbed people of cultural and ethical traditions and replaced them with an obsession with the need to acquire and enjoy; has robbed people of important aspects of being human, like producerism, consistency, integrity, longevity. Leach devotes his book to answering these questions by saying that consumerism is not rational and that consumerism is the antithesis to liberty.   

[Consumerism] critics hoped that Americans could regain their "better past," a shared democratic past that existed before the full advent of corporate capitalism ... [when] to be human, [was to have] a fuller sense of being, and a refusal to accept having and taking as the key to being or the equivalent of being. (Leach, Land of Dreams)

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