Money is designed to separate. The separation has made us who we are, and without it, we would almost certainly never have seen the benefits of the technological revolution. But this doesn’t mean it should remain that way.
The separation of worker, consumer, and their product means there are no limits to the amount of exploitation, repression, and pollution that is perpetrated along the supply chain of that product. In pure neoliberal market thinking, a consumer shouldn’t care where a product comes from, there can by definition be no moral scrupules about a product, because everything is already accounted for in its Price. That price says everything, encapsulates its entire history, the sweat of the workers and the ecosystems that were plundered. That price simply fulfills its cultural role of exculpation.
The belief that the price mechanism still works in today’s global marketplace is grotesque. And even if it would, it would amount to a democratically decided continuation of the ongoing ecocide. And corporations have all the tools they need in their arsenal to make everything “democratic”, from revolving doors to astronomical marketing budgets. But making something democratic doesn’t make it just.
We should address the root cause of the apathy here, the separation. We should erode both divides simultaneously. A consumer should become engaged with the Story of his products, as much as a worker should be aware of the Story of what he is creating. Such awareness poses a vital limit on how far we can go in the pursuit of new products. This engagement should be substantial rather than complementary. Today, green labels on products are hardly more than smart marketing. The workings of the price mechanism are left intact. The idea that the consumer should be asked to give something other than money in order to acquire certain products may sound absurd. But let me give an example. When you want to buy a pound of organic coffee, you are required to chat with its producer. You go online, you have a conversation about the plantation, the children, each other’s way of life. After you say adiós, you are given a confidence code which you need to purchase the coffee (if you still want it).
This sounds radical, and I know many readers would cringe at the idea. Didn’t we put a price tag on products to eliminate the need for any involvement? And isn’t making such social involvement mandatory the worst form of communist planning, turning the epitome of our freedom, our supermarkets, into moral gulags? Well, don’t buy the products then. And maybe we have to force ourselves and each other to break the shackles of separation?