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The moral and political economy of producers and consumers

Research output: Working paper

Published
  • Steve Fleetwood
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Abstract

There appears to be a kind of master discourse of consumption, consumers and consumer society, generated and sustained, primarily, by discourses of consumer sovereignty, and the customer-driven firm. To the extent that we, as consumers, accept (all or some of) this master discourse then we are partly responsible for the negative consequences that befall many workers producing the goods and services we consume - e.g. we often see relatively inexpensive commodities in terms of a 'bargain' rather than the result of someone else's low pay. There is, however, a contradiction at work because we often do not accept all (or some) of this master discourse. We often do care about the plight of those who produce the goods and services we consume. The problem is the master discourse does nothing to encourage these ethical predispositions or to challenge us to probe our ignorance. The aim of this paper is to explore this contradiction. After reminding ourselves, in part one, of some fundamental facts of political economic life, part two introduces moral economy. Part three uses this political and moral economic perspective to focus attention on the negative consequences that can arise for workers, when consumers accept (all or some of) this fetishized master discourse. Part four explores the contradiction by considering cases where consumers do care about the plight of those who produce the goods and services they consume.