The Problem with Citizens as Consumers

Sunday, 20th December 2020


Citizens as consumers. This guy says that that’s the reality, it’s not going to change, and so we should just make the best of it. Stop trying to call people to a higher purpose, and show how policies provide value for money. And the whole argument made without ever once mentioning the word “individualism”, which is underneath all of this.

What do I hate about this? Well, lots. I hate that it basically says that I should give up on any ideals, both for myself, for others, and for all of us collectively. I hate that it puts politics into an economic frame without addressing all of the subtleties and complexities of operating within that economic frame. I hate that it slides between the rhetoric of capitalism and the reality of policy far too easily, as if they are the same thing (and just because they have been the same thing for the past 4 years doesn’t mean that they must be that way). And yes, I hate that everything is reduced to individualist impulses of maximizing utility, without either mentioning that that’s the case or recognizing that a lot of what happens in government can’t be reduced in that manner because individual utility as a political frame has its limits (we can see this in health care distribution, federal level budgeting, protection of the environment, and a host of other things).

And I also hate that now I’m presented with a false set of options, to either accept this diagnosis of the American mind or reject it, when what I want to do is entirely redefine it out of this utility maximizing framework and recognize that people act for a host of reasons, only some of which are describable like this (sorry libertarians, but it’s true).

Anyway, take a look at the interview. You might have a different read. It just made me grumpy.

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