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Social change shouldn’t come from consumers

In a free market economy, the law of supply and demand regulates production and labour. This is a flawed system, especially when it comes to implementing change.

In a free market economy, the law of supply and demand, rather than a central government, regulates production and labour. This is a flawed system, especially when it comes to implementing change.

For example, until workers walked off the job in 1852 in Toronto and demanded a 9-hour workday, business owners were free to make their employees labour for as long as they wanted. Until Winnipeg workers went on strike in 1919 to demand higher wages, business owners were free to pay their employees whatever they wanted. Until 1935, when Vancouver workers marched and rode to Ottawa, Canadian workers had no employment insurance.

If workers had never taken job actions, employers would not have implemented these initiatives. In every case, they had to be forced to make the changes.

As well, if we rely on consumers to implement societal change, that change will take much longer. Consumers are motivated by price (partly because of limits on their income, but that’s a post for another day). As long as alternative products that are more ethical happen to be more expensive, adoption of those alternatives will not be widespread.

Whether it’s phosphorous content in detergents, clothing made in sweatshops, or electronics made with conflict minerals, as long the products are cheaper, consumers will keep buying them. Change must come from the companies selling the products.

The companies should be the ones who use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes and ingredients; it shouldn’t be up to the consumers to demand it.

The companies should be the ones to improve working conditions and remuneration for their factory workers; it shouldn’t be up to the consumer to demand it.

The companies should be the ones to stop funding wars over mineral extraction for the electronics; it shouldn’t be up to the consumer to demand it.

If we rely on the free market, companies will always lean toward exploitation of the environment and of their workers. When you’re motivated by profit, reducing input costs is a strong motivator, and that usually affects labour and raw materials.

If we want a society where we care for the environment and we ensure people can live comfortably, then we must oppose the free market and allow for regulation and collective bargaining.

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By Kim Siever

I live in Lethbridge with my spouse and 5 of our 6 children. I’m a writer, focusing on political news, social issues, and the occasional poem. My politics are radically left. I recently finished writing a book debunking several capitalism myths. My newest book writing project is on the labour history of Lethbridge.

I’m also dichotomally Mormon. And I’m a functional vegetarian: I have a blog post about that somewhere around here. My pronouns are he/him, and I’m queer.

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