Ralph Nader was the son of two Lebanese immigrants who abandoned his legal career to promote consumerism. While studying in Harvard Law School, Nader felt that the school suffered from "narrow intellectualism and moral complacency." He likewise concerned himself with unorthodox legal topics, such as the engineering design of automobiles, particularly issues relating to performance and safety. Nader believed that the automobile industry is host to how economic interests defeat "body rights" of humans. Thus, he conducted investigations on automobile manufacturers, and concluded that corporate negligence is prevalent in the country. In one book, he investigated how a car manufactured by General Motors had faulty rear suspension system and how this faulty system could cause serious bodily injuries. He further concluded that safety has taken the backseat in favor of style and marketing concerns (Nader.org).
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Nader, whose books found success in sales, did not see the fruits of his labor in terms of financial gain. Rather, Nader appreciated the opportunity to advance a new form of citizenship that could serve as a tool in shaping civic life. Thus, it is clear that Nader did not merely aim to expose the safety issues concerning the manufacture of cars; rather, his goal was more expansive. He wanted to promote a kind of citizenship whereby every private person would step up and stop being inconsequential, but become engaged, involved, and questioning “public citizens (Nader.org).” Indeed, Nader was responsible for redefining consumerism. Prior to his radical works, consumerism was considered trivial and inconsequential. However, Nader was able to turn this notion around and encourage movements involving consumer crusades.
The notion of consumerism today does not significantly differ from its notion when Nader gave it his personal influence. Consumerism, then and now, still seeks to protect consumers from clear-cut abuses, such as fraud, deceit, and health risks associated with irresponsible marketing of a product; provide consumers with adequate information to prevent them from being deceived; and protect consumers from themselves (Day & Aaker, 1970).
One example showing these characteristics is Green consumerism as observed in many parts of the world, such as Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Consumers now seek products that have seals of approval showing environmentally responsible management (Sustainable Business Concepts). Thus, there are many efforts today in the automobile industry to develop hybrid cars that are environment friendly (Motortrader, 2004).
Another example of modern consumerism is found in the Starbucks campaign to sell "politically correct coffee," where sales from coffee go directly to coffee farmers, and not to middlemen. This shows that consumer information translates into more responsible management policies (Organic Consumers Association, 2000).
As a future or potential manager, I would initially view consumerism as a threat, since consumerism aims to produce empowered consumers who know how to get vital information and choose in the competitive market. Therefore, traditional means of marketing and advertisement may no longer work for these empowered consumers. Thus, businesses are now exerting effort in learning how to reach out to empowered consumers so that they could form and manage relationships with them. Indeed, many writers in the industry feel that the empowered consumer gains control of businesses, to the detriment of profit. (McGregor, 2005).
However, I also believe that consumerism has positive effects, not only to consumers and businesses, but also to the environment (McGregor, 2005). Knowledge based on reliable information leads consumers to choose products that satisfy their demands, and such choice could lead to benefits for the environment.
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