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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Response to Failure


What happens when someone makes a mistake that sends you through the roof? What happens when you want to rip a person apart for having made a mistake, even when he or she acted within the established guidelines?

First of all, it is important to recognize that those feelings are not a sign of weakness, they simply mean that you are human. The important thing is what you do with those feelings.

If you act on them immediately, more than likely you will destroy any trust you have established between the person and you. Any progress you have made in convincing people that it is okay to fail can be undone in an instant.

You will be better able to accomplish your objectives if you will abide by this unwritten rule: Never reprimand a person unless you are in full control of your own thoughts and emotions. This way you won’t say or do things that may result in momentary satisfaction in the short term but regret in the long term.

I am not suggesting that you never show emotion to your people that you let them know you are angry or upset. Showing your people how you feel can be quite beneficial at times, provided it is shown in an appropriate way and for the right reasons.

When you respond constructively to people’s failures you are doing the single most important thing you can do to let them know that it is okay to fail.

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.

Equal Employment Opportunity


For the last 5-6 decades, women and ethnic minorities have sought equal employment opportunities. These include the desire for a) equal pay for equal work; b) jobs for women and minorities in high-pay, high-prestige occupations—in approximate proportion to their members in the general population; c) a fair chance for women and minorities to be promoted to better jobs based on merit; and d) recognition of the special problems women and minorities face.

Even though the number of working women has grown many times faster than the number of working men, they are concentrated in clerical and service jobs, where they earn less than men for the same work—even when education and work experience are equal. Women also suffer from untrue stereotypes and absenteeism and emotional instability. And they sometimes have to do much better work than their male colleagues to be promoted.

Business can help create equal employment opportunity by providing women with role models—examples of productive and successful women—and by promoting them when they deserve it. Business can also offer flexible work schedules, day-care facilities, and leaves of absence for child-care when necessary.

Business can help minorities to achieve equal employment opportunities by actively seeking them as employees, by redesigning job requirements so as to rely more on skills and less on traditional backgrounds, by financially supporting minorities who want more education, and by placing minority employees in mainstream jobs where rapid promotion based on ability is customary. Many businesses are also helping minorities by buying some of their supplies from minority-owned small businesses.

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.

Efficiency and Values


The term ‘efficiency’ is a concept that has meaning only in the context of an agreed set of objectives. Such objectives can include objectives about inter-personal distribution, typically reflecting one or other interpretation of equity. Occasions when the goals of efficiency and distribution conflict of the agreed set of objectives does not include equitable distribution. Indeed, historically and still to a great extent, the dominant interpretation of ‘efficiency’ has typically included only the objective of measured economic production/consumption. We should at most call this interpretation ‘economic efficiency’ and not honor it with the label of efficiency in general. But the efficiency label has enormous legitimizing power and functions as a trump card in the modern vocabulary. No one can declare themselves against it. If a policy option is deemed inefficient that usually sinks it. So contenders try to capture the label, to serve their particular set of objectives. This is what business interests and mainstream economists have successfully done for a long time. We need ask: Efficiency by which values?

 

Mainstream economists have focused on growth of aggregate production and national income. Business and other sectional interests may focus on sectional gains but advocate these behind the language of ‘efficiency.’ Not infrequently, the policies behind an efficiency label have been less economic as well as less equitable, and an ‘efficient’ only for elites.

 

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 contact www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight