chapter  15
16 Pages

Civil Society

Free market zealots (who object to any increase in the powers of the state) would have us believe that the only way to secure a genuinely sustainable economy is for enough consumers to be using their purchasing power (or withholding it by saving rather than consuming) in order to ensure that markets deliver sustainable development as a by-product of consumer sovereignty. It’s a wonderful notion if one believes that we live in a world of perfect information. But given how disempowered, manipulated and deceived (not least by prices that don’t reflect true costs) today’s consumers really are, the concept of ‘consumer sovereignty’ needs to be exposed to rather more stringent analysis. This uncertainty often leaves governments uncertain of their own role – not just in terms of regulation and other direct interventions in markets, but through sustainable procurement in the public sector and other ways of ‘walking the sustainable talk’ rather more proactively. It doesn’t help that governments (with the active connivance of today’s progressive left) now choose to define all citizens as consumers – of the party brand, of policy packages, of political choices. This ‘consumerization’ of politics has widened the governance gaps that are already causing such concern in terms of voter disengagement and disaffection.