The Economics of Consumption

By Charles S. Wyand | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 13
GOVERNMENT AGENCIES AFFECTING CHOICE

In his inspection of human society, the sociologist has discovered that men embrace two distinct and frequently antithetical points of view. There are first of all the humanitarian mores, or the ideals and attitudes to which we conventionally pay lip service. Such mores are the precepts which characterize our formal utterances on social life and its relationships. In frequent and sharp contrast are the so-called practical mores or the attitudes and values which actually motivate social interaction. Thus, we are in complete accord in asserting that "no one shall starve," but we fight bitterly against a tax assessment to feed the starving. We espouse the doctrine of fair play and excuse our everyday commercial practices with the expression, "business is business." We are loud in our defense of free speech and yet seek the deportation of the Union Square orators. All men and their institutions function on the basis of this ethical dualism. Indeed so commonplace is the phenomenon that one is rarely surprised at the widest variations between precept and example. With human complacency we embrace both positions and either condone or are completely unaware of the resulting anomaly. It is conceivable that social life would be otherwise impossible. Since the state and its government are man-made institutions, it might be well to preface our discussion of the government's actual service to the consumer with a brief summary of the policy which theoretically dominates its activity and gives meaning to its function.

If the avowed economic basis of life in the United States is individualism, its ostensible political foundation is democracy. The greatest good of the greatest number is our announced goal; private enterprise and majority rule the respective economic and political means of reaching that goal. The primary function of government is, therefore, to serve the interests and foster the welfare of the major portion of the body politic. The dominance of minority interests is assumed to be antithetical to the public welfare since rule of, by, and for the people is the avowed keystone of American democracy. This being the case, the student might

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