From a review in today’s New York Times of Berkeley
economic professor of Public Policy and former Clinton administration labor secretary Robert Reich’s new book, Supercapitalism:
One of the book’s examples of consumers’ hypocrisy has to do with canned tuna. J. W. Connolly, former president of Heinz U.S.A., which was the parent company of StarKist, explains that “consumers wanted a dolphin-safe product,” but “if there was a dolphin-safe can of tuna next to a regular can, people chose the cheaper product. Even if the difference was a penny.” The company terminated its higher-cost effort to protect dolphins. After all, it’s a business, beholden to consumers and shareholders.
With such vignettes culled from the news media, Mr. Reich disembowels proponents of corporate “social responsibility.” He shows that companies like Wal-Mart are operating legally yet being shamed into incurring social costs that their competitors are not. Critics’ campaigns are a misleading diversion, he argues, because they confuse businesses with what they can never be: public interest bodies.
I’m reminded of a study I read recently (and can’t find again) that held that many Americans who choose not to purchase a car with a high rate of fuel efficiency on their own also supported the idea of a federally-mandated lower threshold on fuel efficiency for car manufacturers.
Are we as a species unable to rectify higher personal cost for an ultimate societal benefit? Because if so, it’s going to make the idea of paying more for electronics that include a cradle-to-grave recycling and materials reclamation process an unlikely success. (And that’s the very idea I’ve been thinking would be useful for a long time.) Presuming recycling of products should be a manufacturer’s responsibility in the first place, will it take government regulation to enact these sort of initiatives?
Strangely, the only examples I can think of people paying a premium for electronics en masse are for luxury items, like the first iPods and other high-end, design-heavy products.