consumer

Let's Go Beyond Consumerism, Citizenship, and Individualism

Bulatnikov / Shutterstock
Rather than stumbling into single-serving citizenship, what if we learned to be a body together? Bulatnikov / Shutterstock

This morning at breakfast, I was reading an article in the newspaper about how the Affordable Care Act is negatively affecting some individuals — especially those who buy their own insurance, rather than receiving it through an employer. The article was interesting, but what struck me the most was the way the problem was framed. Rather than approaching the story from a public policy angle, the article mainly focused on the reaction of consumers of health-care goods and services. The crux of the article was whether some individuals should be required to buy a product they might not want or need so that other individuals could have affordable access to health-care products they need desperately but might not be able to afford under the old regime.

The dilemma was presented as a story of tension between healthier consumers and less healthy consumers fighting to get the best deal for their health-care dollars. But could there be another way of thinking about health care, and about our society as a whole? Is there a framework that would allow us to consider these questions in a way that assumed connection, caring, and community between individuals, rather than the zero-sum competition of the market?

Using Spending Power for Good: A Conversation With Nathan George of Trade As One

Photo courtesy of Trade as One
Trade As One provides a quarterly fair trade subscription for ethical consumption. Photo courtesy of Trade as One

At the Justice Conference last weekend I had the opportunity to sit down with Nathan George, founder of Trade As One, and ask him about buying fair trade and his company's awesome — and newly launched — fair trade subscription service. Here is the fruit of that conversation.

The interview was edited for length and content.

Living with Big Pharma

AS WE MOVE along in 2013, more initiatives will be coming on line from Obamacare (technically the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, although if you rearrange the letters it spells "death panels"). Starting next year, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage for anyone with pre-existing conditions, which is good news for Mitch McConnell, who might want to have his permanent frown removed. Additionally, the law requires that all tea party members take a spoonful of castor oil before bedtime and wear coarse undergarments close to the skin. (Hey, it was a big bill, with lots of fine print.)

What won't change, however, is our relationship to the pharmaceutical industry, known as "Big Pharma"—which is not, as you may have thought, the nickname of a linebacker from one of our agricultural-state colleges, but rather shorthand for "companies that combine ground-breaking science with the business model of a crack dealer." No offense to crack dealers.

I recently had a personal experience with Big Pharma, after two weeks with a projectile cough that filled the middle distance with an alluring prismatic mist. Office colleagues did not appreciate my little air rainbows, so I contacted my doctor for advice, using the convenience of email rather than driving over and changing into a disposable paper gown which—and I feel strongly about this—does not adequately flatter the body of a mature man.

I described my symptoms with a level of detail that only a professional writer can do, using the lushness of the English language to create a memorable narrative of my condition and symptoms. Naturally, I expected my doctor to reply in kind. But she didn't: "You're sick. Here's a prescription." (Science geek.)

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A Search for Self in a Season of Stuff

Black Friday shopping, Kenishirotie / Shutterstock.com
Black Friday shopping, Kenishirotie / Shutterstock.com

Once there was a crowd of about 2,000 shoppers gathered for the early morning opening of a local Wal-Mart.

It was the morning after Thanksgiving Day in Valley Stream, New York, an occasion commonly known as “Black Friday” throughout the United States.

As the opening hour of operation approached, the crowd grew quickly in size, but it also increased with anxiety and anger, as many had waited throughout the cold and dark night, some as long as eight hours. The masses were more than ready to move into the warmth, brightness, and seasonal buying bliss of their neighborhood Wal-Mart. 

When the store manager finally unlocked the front entrance, the massive and eager crowd erupted with energy and passionately pushed into the store like a tidal wave.  In doing so, through the sheer physical force of mass purchasing power, the swarm of shoppers broke through – and eventually broke down – the Wal-Mart doors. 

Customer Service 101

Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Customer examines myriad soft drink choices in a NJ Wal-Mart. Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Imagine a Catholic Church that stopped catering to its tiny cadre of old male bishops and heard instead the cries of its people. Or a fundamentalist movement that stopped defending its franchise by nonsensical attacks on evolution and modernity, and instead took Scripture seriously.

Imagine a conservative Christian movement that dropped its relentless assault on women's rights and instead sought a fresh vision of family and values. Or a progressive movement that listened to people, rather than lecturing them.

Too many "providers" — in politics, business and religion — come across as having a low opinion of their constituents. People tend to be good judges of what matters to them. Voters know this recession better than their would-be leaders seem to know it. Believers seem to take their faith more seriously than those institutions that seek to enroll them as members.

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