The Economics of Consumption

By Charles S. Wyand | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 14
THE CONSUMER HELPS HIMSELF

Unable to protect his interests otherwise, the ultimate buyer is slowly turning to the principle of consumer coöperation. He has appealed to the entrepreneur, to private and public agencies, and to the courts; but all have been either unable or unwilling to guarantee him quality goods at a fair price. In sheer desperation and out of their common plight, consumers are recognizing the necessity of combining forces to prevent their complete exploitation. And the result has been the establishment and growth of new economic institutions that apparently mark the initial stages of a potentially vast and far-reaching reorganization of both economic ideals and practices.

No one knows this better than the enterpriser. The Interstate Grocer warns its readers that "if they [the consumers] get fully organized, our present retailing, wholesaling, and producing system may be blown up."1 To this Roger W. Babson adds a further admonition. Speaking to retailers he says, "we all must watch our step if consumers ever become wise to their latent power and decide to become dictators in fact as they already are in theory. We say and say earnestly that merchants who laugh off these consumer crusades are sitting on dynamite."2

Both observations are correct. For the establishment of consumer coöperatives crystallizes the fundamental economic struggle of the 20th century, i.e., the conflict between mutual-aid and self-help. It is a phenomenon of the early stages of the breakdown of individualism. As one coöperative puts it, it is the struggle of "human rights v. property rights."3 More accurately, the coöperative movement represents a compromise position between private and social enterprise. Finding pure individualism incapable of serving their interests, and yet resisting the regimentation of a socialist state, these consumers hope through coöperation to

____________________
1
The Interstate Grocer, Jan. 4, 1936, p. 1.
2
Ibid.
3
Principles of Consumers' Coöperation, Midland Coöperative Wholesale, Minneapolis, Minn., p. 3.

-383-

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