Freedom and responsibility

Consumer

To an economy of question and answer

The 21st century can also be seen as a sign of maturity for our role as consumers! Especially since the World Social Forums became “frontrunners” for all civil society organisations we can see the prove that the human being has taken its place in the world. As an individual, as a citizen and as a consumer. With head, hart and hands we are more and more participating in shaping our world. We decide which farmers, teachers, physicians or architects are going to work for us. Up to and including the financing of it through our daily expenses. Because with every decision that we make we let each euro, yen or dollar start a new round! And if we learn to ask better questions we can hope to get better answers!

History

In early times priests and pharao’s ruled the nations by managing the agriculture, trade and distribution, and all other things including making the laws. The Roman Empire and beyond was the time of emperors and kings to be frontrunnners of human development. Even in the way they managed to be a model themselves! In China they said that bad emperors need more laws to survive, a good emperor didn’t need them at all. Then, from the times of Marco Polo and Venice we see science, industry, trade and economy rule our history.

In these five hundred years first the producers decided what was produced (until Henri Ford: my car is available in every colour only if it is black). End of the nineteenth century trade began to “manipulate” the markets by advertising and marketing. And last but not least: after the second World War the consumer came into the spotlight!

In the first years after the war we had to consume only to survive. And later to experience the utmost freedom in all kinds of products, possibilities of travelling by car and plane, and all other ways of living our lives. After the first ten years we saw however that not everything went as expected! In the sixties became transparent that many products were unsafe, poisoned or lethal for the environment. Consumers went up the barricades together with students and labourers.
But protesting alone was not enough. We had to go into dialogue with producers of goods and services and with governments. In the seventies all kinds of consumer associations became into being worldwide, in medicare and in schools first. And in the eighties we realised that we had to finance the new economy in a proper way: alternative banks, fair trade and new money systems began to emerge.

Now we have passed the nineties and are well underway in the 21st century. We are “mature”, but still have a lot to learn! What is that special role of the consumer? What is financing, spending, subsidising and the role of money itself? How can we find our way in this world of mass-information? What is management and how can we make better decisions in the future? What is consumer governance?

Globalisation

In early times we collected our own food, made our own clothes and build our own tents. It was the time of the do-it-yourself economy! Later on we lived in villages where we split up tasks in agriculture, building houses or medicare, but also education, lawmaking and art!. We called it a barter economy or an economy of exchange. When it became more and more complex and more globalising we needed traders and bankers to arrange the processes of distribution and administration between producers and consumers. For goods and services as well.

Producers

Asking basic questions about our human necessities we can discover that there are only (but also exactly!) twelve basic needs. So there are also only twelve 'producers' of goods or services and consumer associations as our representatives.

  1. RL What is the meaning of all, why am I here (religion/philosophy of life)?
  2. AR Is life worth while, is it beautiful and interesting (art/culture)?
  3. SC And can I understand everything around me (science/research)?
  4. ED How to give knowledge to the next generation (education/schooling)?
  5. ME How staying alive in good order (medicare/fitness)?
  6. FO And how to live from day tot day (food/clothing/environment)?
  7. HO Can I get a roof above my head (housing/furniture)?
  8. MO What tools do I need, including money (money/all other tools)?
  9. TR And how can I go from A to B (travelling/transport)?
  10. CO How can I reach the other without travelling (communication/internet)?
  11. JU How arrange relations from person to person (justice, politics)?
  12. AS And how do I meet the other or work together (association/society)?

As could be expected every “troika” is again representing head, hart and hands! (connect on a clock: 3.4.9.10 - 2.5.8.11 - 1.6.7.12 and recognise the principles of thinking/observing, feeling/mediating, willing/doing).

Trade

In every book about trade we can discover three basic items which are to be discussed. Quality, quantity and price at the side of the producers. And payment, delivery and consuming at the side of the consumers. Guarantee/control is in fact standing in between. So in all the talking via consumer associations with producers of goods and services, and with traders and bankers as mediators, there are seven items to discuss:

  1. QUALITY
  2. QUANTITY
  3. PRICE
  4. GUARANTEE
  5. PAYMENT
  6. DELIVERY
  7. CONSUMING

Quality is in fact the most important. And especially when we look further into the inner quality, there is a lot more to say about it! And that needs all of our attention in the future! Because quality of goods and services means quality of life!

Looking at which directions our money can go we can choose between three options: spend, save or subsidize.

Spending by buying is paying for the goods which are already produced, so we are financing the past. When we save our money for later opportunities and keep it in today’s saving account, we are in fact making new initiatives possible (saving – investing – repay – and cash again one day). Or we subsidize the future when we finance schools and research, which is in fact financing our new producers and new products!

In our bookkeeping we can make the twelve categories as the most easy overview of our daily decision-making.

Consumer

Every euro yen or dollar begins a new round when we spend one! So all what happens in the world depends on our individual decision-making. And together with the other six billion consumers we give direction to the whole global budget!

We are free to choose, sure, but also responsible for every choice we make.

Consumer governance is another description of acting locally and thinking globally. Trying to make wise decisions in at least three directions:

Quality is the most important aspect of our decisions. How can we get more information about the (inner) quality of things?

Long term decisions are basic and have greatest impact. Also the best moments to be in full consciousness instead of checking every product.

Support consumer associations as our representatives is preventive and we do not need to invent the wheel every time when we have a problem!

This article is a summary of the book Consumer Freedom and Responsibility (consument vrijheid en verantwoordelijkheid) 1998, 60 pages, ISBN 90 76206 01 5 A second edition is in preparation. The author Peter Daub is founder and chairman of the Free Consumer Association in the Netherlands ( www.vrijeconsumenten.nl ). He studied management at Nyenrode University and accountancy at Erasmus University. Worked at ING Bank and helped with the start of the Triodos Bank for new ways in financing. After years of research in all kinds of consumer associations he wrote this book.