Collective consumer action and morality in an economy

There are levels of moral motivation people and businesses can act from in an economy

1. egocentric
2. ethnocentric / community
3. worldcentric / deep community

One of the problems of our economy is that there are some businesses that sometimes instead of acting from a community based motivation act from a more egocentric motivation. Thus we have Wal-mart and Target coming into towns and destroying the ecosystem of mom and pop stores that are part of the community fabric of a town. There are companies that engage in all kinds of labor practices that are not with the best interests of the workers in mind. Banks engage in predatory lending and shadowy forms of money shifting.

Is the march of big, multinational corporations doing things of a low moral standard an inevitable process?

Well, in a capitalistic system both the seller and the consumer influence the system. As shoppers we have choice, and we can act from more egocentric or more community minded motivations. We have a choice between shopping at Walmart or a local business. We have a choice of getting a fair trade coffee instead another kind. If no one buys from a business with less moral practices, then a business will fold, or have to shift itself to a more moral practice where people will buy.

Many of us when we are weighing the lower prices or the community choice, end up choosing the problematical product with a lower price – and find ourselves saddled with a somewhat guilty conscience.

Is there a way to align our behavior with our moral standards? Well psychologists and social scientists have found feedback and context is important for shifting behavior. If our actions get a community feedback then it is much more likely we will act in a way that serves the community.

What we can do is build a feedback loop that shows our impact as community on the different businesses. If our individual actions are shown to be part of a collective action our community motivations will be strengthened.

Groupon is one example of a way we can collectivize our shopping potential. If we have a large group of friends and community members all chipping into get a more moral choice, we can also get a cheaper price at the same time. We feel like we are making a different business choice as a community. The impact we have is clearer.

Another way to work as a community is for a large group of people to get together and work with the local stores. The local stores can offer a prepaid discount card for its goods, if enough people sign up agree not to shop at big box stores, and buy the discount card. Working together they can see more fully the impact of the consumer choices.

If shopper and businesses at higher moral stages work together they can create feedback loops that processes that make it a lot easier to make a more moral choice. So for example in the case of fair trade coffee. The fair-trade coffee shop can offer pre-paid discount cards if enough people agree that they will be buy their coffee there and not somewhere else with non fair-trade coffee.

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One thought on “Collective consumer action and morality in an economy

  1. I’m curious of using collective consumer action as a form of protest. Ideally, the way this would manifest is through targeted consumption or lack thereof of certain companies goods/services at important times of the year. Could we, given large enough numbers of consumers, shape the business models of large banks, retailers, etc through means of not shopping during the Christmas holiday or closing numerous bank accounts all at once. In my mind such action would require a simple means to organize consumers (i.e a mobile app that allows one to confirm or deny a stated objective like not shopping at WalMart after Thanksgiving) and then having economic/business analysis to find companies that are 1) overly ecocentric, 2) easy targets to make statements that consumers demand more ethnocentric business models. Such forms of consumer driven mass protest could prove to be heard over the various other forms of protest taking place in the US.

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