Consumer Sovereignty


Mainstream economics uses some simple starting points; it believes that they are the best possible. First is that agents have more wants than they can attain, so that they feel scarcity; in fact, for practical purposes, wants are assumed to be endless. Second, third and fourth are that agents are self-interested, rational, and the best judges of their own well-being. These four assumptions are indeed usually good starting points, rather than starting by assuming that agents are completely fulfilled, altruistic, irrational, and not well-placed to evaluate their own situation. They are not equally good as finishing points. Sometimes good arguments exist for not accepting them.

An assumption that agents are the best judges of their own well being is less questionable for businesspeople and corporations, given the resources they have for analysis. Debate focuses more on consumers. The phrase consumer sovereignty is sometimes read descriptively, to mean that consumers are sovereign, in that procedures are induced via profit-seeking and competition  to provide what consumers want. Sometimes it is read normatively, to mean that consumers should be sovereign, their wishes should prevail concerning what is good for them. The normative claim can rest on three different bases: that consumers do make good choices; that the alternative stance is worse – to use someone else’s judgments and estimates of what is good for a person and how good it is; or quite differently, that people have the right to make their own choices and mistakes.

Consumers will not make good choices automatically and unconditionally. Our wants are not simple; for example, some are wants to not to have other wants (such as the desire to smoke or a compulsion to gamble). Establishing a mature balance between wants involves skills. Choice is also unlikely to bring satisfaction if taken on the basis of weak information. Markets often do not provide consumers with full and reliable information, for it is hard to exclude people from information and therefore to ensure payment for it, so its market supply is weakened. Instead, in a commerce-dominated society, one of the main types of information that adults get will be images that say the good life is obtained through high consumption of commodities; there is too little counteracting public information.

The issue of consumer sovereignty goes beyond whether choices are good for the chooser. Other people are affected. Some wants may thus be unacceptable, notably wants that bring harm to others, including even wants to harm others. Mainstream economists have unfortunately often taken a don’t-want-to-know approach to ethics in which they confuse acceptance of all wants with a value-neutral stance.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

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Negotiating for Change


Occasionally, in any change effort a manager may run into another kind of roadblock: he/she may require the cooperation and support of managers in other departments and divisions, but may have no formal authority over them. Attempts to influence or persuade them  to support change may fail because the change may involve a perceived loss for the other managers, this could be loss in status, power, authority, prestige or prerequisites. Under these circumstances, it is not in the self-interest of those managers to support the change. Situations like these make the management of change explicitly political because, in order to gain their support, the manager may have to do some bargaining. In other words, when influence and persuasion fail, a manager may need to mobilize support through negotiation. Many managers, particularly those with technical backgrounds, find this process distasteful because it seems irrational. However, there is little that is irrational in these situations and they arise out of calculated self-interest. Just as there are sound scientific principles to influence and persuade people, negotiation and bargaining can also be based on logic and science. While part of negotiation—like management—is art, most of it is amenable of scientific analysis.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.