All Commentary
Wednesday, March 1, 1978

The Consumer’s Role

The reins of the free-market economy lie in the hands of the consumer.


It takes little effort to be a consumer. The simple act of buying a good or service is the only requirement for entering the club of consumerism, for in the free-market economy the consumer is a special person. Unlike other economic systems, the free-market economy, in particular the free-market economy of the United States, caters to the consumer, appealing to his wants and attempting to satisfy his desires.

Each individual consumer, consciously or unconsciously, determines the fate of. the goods and services on the market each time he chooses one product instead of another. Each penny that is spent on any one product is the equivalent of an economic vote in favor of that particular product and against its competitors.

Therefore, a single consumer and his choices are important, for each consumer’s economic vote, when added to the votes of other consumers, determines which consumer goods will remain on the market. Obviously, the entrepreneur will not want to manufacture product A if the consumer does not like product A and prefers to purchase product B.

Thus the reins of the free-market economy lie in the hands of the consumer.

With the possible exception of the very rich, the individual consumer has limited monetary resources and must budget his expenditures. How he determines his marginal utility will determine how much he will spend, how much he will save or invest, and on what he will make his expenditures.

However, the free-market economy depends upon more than just the consumer being able to buy a rib roast or a refrigerator when he so chooses. For the consumer lives in an intangible world of thoughts, ideas, ethics, and morals; and his attitudes toward these cultural aspects of life influence and determine his philosophies and actions. He is just as obligated to consume wisely in this intangible world as he is in the material world in which he physically lives.

Thus the reins of the free-market economy lie in the hands of the consumer. And the consumer, because he is in the driver’s seat, has an obligation to consume wisely. Unfortunately, too many consumers are either unaware of this obligation or do not take it seriously, if indeed they even accept the fact that they are obligated to anyone or anything.

Man’s Greatest Asset

The human mind is man’s greatest asset. Without the ability to think and reason, the individual is of no use to himself or to others; for the thinking man is an active man, active in using his mind to make choices that affect not only himself but the society around him. However, unlike the instincts that birds and animals are born with, man’s knowledge and understanding must be acquired through his own endeavors, for he enters this world naked mentally as well asphysically. The man who covets knowledge and understanding will find much to learn.

It is Proverbs that tells us: “Wisdom is before him that hath understanding… Get wisdom, get understanding.”

By applying this thought to economics, one can see that an understanding of the free-market environment in which the consumer finds himself helps him to develop the wisdom necessary to consume wisely.

The field of communication is the link between the consumer, the entrepreneur, and the government.

King Solomon was known throughout the world for his wisdom—his common sense solutions to problems. This is not to say that all problems can be solved by using just common sense, for they cannot; but the consumer can make sensible decisions by wisely considering his possible choices.

The choices the consumer makes in the intangible world of thoughts and actions are primarily influenced by what he hears and sees.

That the forms of communication in a country are immediately taken over when a communistic or socialistic regime comes into power is evidence of the importance of communication systems. If the means of introducing ideas to the masses can be controlled, what they think and thus what they are can be controlled. By controlling the mind, one can control the body.

Thus, freedom of the press and media—newspapers, magazines, books, advertising, television, radio—is a vital necessity if this country is to maintain a capitalistic, free-market economy. The field of communication is the link between the consumer, the entrepreneur, and the government.

Promoting Intervention

One of the dangers threatening the free-market economy in the United States today is the tendency of the press and media to advocate philosophies that favor government intervention.

The consumer, instead of accepting responsibility for his lackadaisical choices, blamed everyone but himself.

Since neither the ear-gate nor the eye-gate is ever satisfied, the sound and visual media have an unlimited market for whatever they choose to present to the consumer; for the consumer is always willing to hear and see more. “Let the consumer beware” can well be applied to this situation because only the consumer himself, through wisdom and understanding, is able to accept or reject the thoughts, ideas, ethics, and morals of others which are continually being fed to him. Only the consumer himself is able to make the choice of what is wise and what is unwise. He will ultimately choose to control his own mind or will choose to let it be controlled for him by others.

Unfortunately, the consumer has not wisely considered his choices in the material world, and the foolish choices of his past are now darkening his hope for a bright future. What has cast this shadow?

The consumer, freed from the mental and physical controls placed on him during the depression of the 30s and the war of the 40s—his pocket amply filled with money—breathed a sigh of relief and moved out of his house of bricks into a house of straw. In his eagerness to spend, he no longer chose to act as a knowledgeable, well-informed, reasoning consumer and this led him into compulsive buying and unsound choices.

The problem is not to be solved by the government.

As a result, the consumer, instead of accepting responsibility for his lackadaisical choices, blamed everyone but himself. Instead of correcting a deteriorating situation by starting to consume wisely, he continued buying and complaining and did not change his habits.

Washington, which had stepped into the void created when the demand-supply free-market economy had been upset during these two decades, took note of the situation, took the entrepreneur to the woodshed, and took the consumer under its bureaucratic wing, trying to cure the consumer’s very real ills with the wrong medicine—intervention in the marketplace.

Thus, the free-market economy found itself being pushed down the road which leads to socialism, for government intervention eventually leads to the elimination of the market’s reason for being: the making of a profit, an effective tool by which business determines how best to serve the consumer.

While there is little doubt that some entrepreneurs will willingly “fleece” the consumer in a free-market economy, the problem is not to be solved by the government. Once the government gets its bureaucratic foot in the door, the choice the consumer may want to make may not be the choice he is allowed to make.

Consumer Responsibility

The trouble with controls in a free-market economy is that the government tends to consider the consumer right and the entrepreneur wrong. It puts most of the responsibilities for the success of the free-market economy on the shoulders of the entrepreneur and little on the shoulders of the consumer. But the free-market economy is very clear in telling the consumer that he is in control and that he has the obligation to consume wisely. However, socialism is telling the consumer to sit back and relax, that government will take over his obligations and save him the trouble of consuming wisely.

Government control is always what happens to the “other guy,” never to himself.

For the intellectual consumer who values his freedom to choose and reason, the inroads socialism has made into the free-market economy of the United States under the guise of government’s helping hand, should be a cause for alarm. Our capitalist economy has regressed to the point where government seemingly wants to allow only enough freedoms to give the illusion of consumer leadership and freedom in the marketplace.

As long as the majority of the consumers can be convinced that they still act as the hub of the wheel of the free-market economy, able to influence the entrepreneur to produce what they want, they are satisfied.

The consumer may even mentally reject the idea that he is being controlled through intervention in the marketplace if enough of his demands are being supplied and the decisions made by the so-called consumer protection agencies do not seriously impede his consumption. Government control is always what happens to the “other guy,” never to himself. His eyes are mentally blinded, for he does not want to see.

Our founding fathers came to this country fully aware of the dictatorial nature of government controls. One of the safeguards they established was the division of power in government. They realized that each branch of government would guard its powers jealously and not surrender them to centralized control, necessary in any type of dictatorship. The various branches of the federal, state, and local governments were designed to fight to keep and preserve their governing rights. A check and balance on each other, the system itself would discourage government control. Those leaders set up our government not by accident but as a well-planned, thoughtful system, based on a constitution which divided government powers in every way possible.

Personal Freedom Requires Limited Government

Government powers in the new nation were severely controlled, for it was felt that the government’s power should be limited to national defense and the court system. The only power they felt really necessary in the government was one which would permit strong enough controls to repress any person or persons who endangered the freedoms of the majority who were existing peacefully. Realizing that the government which governs best governs least, the founding fathers incorporated the principles of this idea into the constitution.

Over and over again history has shown that man’s freedom is in inverse proportion to government rule, for man is only free when government is contained. The more fragmented the government, the more freedom man gains.

Our liberties and our freedoms are to be cherished and can easily be lost because they are literally tied to the apron strings of a free-market economy.

One often hears the view expressed that mankind is basically good, but in Romans, we are warned that “there is none righteous no not one” and Jeremiah adds that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” In other words, man must be continually aware of the necessity to discipline his thoughts and actions. It is easy for man to be evil; it is hard for man to be good.

This is why man, who finds himself in a position of power, will tend to put himself first and his fellow man last. This is why power, in whatever form, is a potential danger. History has shown us wars, depressions, and hatreds that have pitted man against man, brother against brother, and parent against child, and at the root lies the lust for power.

Therefore, when the consumer starts applying the above truths of good and evil to economics, he can see that for his own personal well-being it is to his advantage to work at being wary so that he is able to consume wisely. Our liberties and our freedoms are to be cherished and can easily be lost because they are literally tied to the apron strings of a free-market economy.

Two Choices

Only through the human action of intellectual choice can the consumer hope to play his part in the salvation of the free-market economy.

There are only two choices: right or wrong—truth or error. Human intellect must separate the two and apply truth to capitalism because if it does not, error will prevail and the free-market economy will cease to exist. Unless man’s mind is free, his body never can be.

For the wages of consumer ignorance is government control, the parent of bureaucracy and socialism; but the wages of consumer wisdom and understanding is freedom and liberty. The stakes are high.

Only through the human action of intellectual choice can the consumer hope to play his part in the salvation of the free-market economy from the very real threat of eventual domination by government. 


  • Cyd Essock is a former writer for The Freeman magazine.