“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
– Albert Einstein
We live in a world where the decisions we make, however small, have effects that reverberate globally. This is certainly the case when it comes to what we choose to buy. Yet, today the most important information about the products we buy is not fully provided to consumers. In America, with a democracy that has survived for 230 years, we can use our hard-won and historically rare freedom of information to bring consumers some information that can really change the world for the better. The awesome power consumers have over corporate behavior could be the key to furthering democracy around the world and make potential dictators think twice before canceling or rigging elections. An educated consumer, who knows where the products they buy are produced, can be one of the most important weapons in the fight for free elections worldwide.
Products are now advertised and produced as environmentally friendly because people have made it clear they want to buy goods made with certain safeguards for healthy wildlife, clean air and water. You can now buy recycled paper towels at most grocery stores and thousands of dolphins are now alive because people demanded dolphin-safe tuna. For a long time only buying a car made in America, as opposed to in a foreign country, has been practiced by some nationalistic Americans as a way to help the country’s economy. Consumers today are aware that the purchases they make can reflect a moral stance from locally grown foods to vegetarianism because the power of consumers to change the behavior of corporations is real and effective. This knowledge can be used to further the cause of democracy worldwide by giving consumers the information necessary to make informed decisions.
We Shop Democratically
Individuals in the democratic world should be politically conscious of where their favorite products are produced because the wise use of their purchasing power could be crucial to the progress of democracy and humanity itself. Sometimes it is easy to ascertain origin of product, like the famous “Made in China” or “Made in India” labels. If you see the label, you know where it was produced. Yet, often the label is unavailable, gives insufficient information or the user is simply unaware of democratic progress. While it is not necessarily the government’s job to provide this information, it is possible for consumers to demand changes from the companies where they shop without government help.
Trade policy is actually a delicate and vitally important part of any country’s foreign policy and it does not have to be the government’s role to guide citizens to buy democratic (or American) products. But in the modern world of Facebook and Twitter, individual consumers, acting without government, are free to make moral choices with their purchasing power and should be empowered by society to help the democratic world where possible.
Individual consumers might be free to make choices on what they buy but do not have the important information in front of them. The free world is now large and diverse enough with a large enough percentage of the human population that the possibility of individual informed citizens shopping democratic is very real without actions made by government like sanctions or trade barriers. There are many democracies in the world, rich and poor, and they can be greatly helped by focusing our purchasing power on products made by free people like them. A great way to help the people of the newly democratic Arab Spring countries could be buying olives grown in Tunisia, Egyptian cotton or even solar power from Libya.
How to Shop Democratically
There are several possible strategies for promoting democratic products including an international label that reads “Made in the Democratic World” based on a country’s democratic scores in democracy indexes like Freedom House’s Freedom in the World reports or the Economist’s Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. We know that with Freedom House the methodology is sound and based on numbers published every year. Those who wanted to shop more democratically can use their country scores as a guide for knowing what countries are part of the democratic world.
Another idea is an organization or a website where products made in good democracies or improving democracies can be purchased. Democracy-minded people who want to take action for the benefit of world stability could have a place to find goods produced in democratic countries and even support new democracies with purchases strategically designed to help build short-term or long-term economic strength. Many of these new democracies, like in the post-Soviet Color Revolutions or the Arab Spring, go through serious economic hardship due to the short-term risks created by toppling their dictatorships. There could be a platform where they can be supported in key moments by democratic-minded people. There could even be options on shopping websites like Amazon where you can search to find democratically produced and labeled products made in free countries.
What is clear is that the modern world could use help in its struggle against dictatorships and that the wallet has often been found to be the most effective tool to take action. If consumers can demand better products, cheaper prices and safer production from the businesses they frequent, then certainly it is just to demand that the products be produced in the free world where workers have political and civil rights, government violence is restrained, and dictators don’t seek to use the profits to undermine other country’s democracies. If we are to end the reigns of the last dictatorships, it is important that people are given the chance to know where they can find products that are produced democratically. One thing is clear: this is an idea that will not make dictators happy.
If you like the idea and would like to do something about it, we would love to hear from you. I particularly would like to hear if someone likes the idea of a website designed to help people shop democratically. If anyone has any ideas about how we can help people in Arab Spring countries, like Egypt, Libya or Yemen, please let us know. Please comment below and tell us your ideas for taking action. Also, be sure to check back because I try to respond to everyone’s comments on Democracy Chronicles. You can leave DC a message at our contact page too.