Are We Citizens or Consumers?

The myth of consumer activism

| October 10, 2003 Issue

"Vote with your dollars" has long been a mantra of progressive-minded folk. But as Minneapolis activist Betsy Barnum writes in, the power of the consumer is a "myth" that "not only doesn't work but actually distracts us from the only real power we have to address corporate rule and the degradation of our world."

Though corporations are often thought of as economic entities, Barnum argues that they hold tremendous political clout and must be dealt with politically. Besides, she adds, "consumers don't decide what happens in the marketplace, they merely respond." Consumer demand for a certain product is corrupted by the billions of dollars corporations spend on advertising, allowing the marketplace to be saturated with useless and dangerous goods. And consumer action is often a solitary endeavor, when what's really needed is mass action.

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