Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Choice Illusion

One of the great illusions of the capitalist age, is the illusion of choice. We are constantly told, by those in power, that choice is a good thing. It is often used as an unarguable statement. After all, who would argue with the idea of choice? However, we are never really offered a choice. From the ballot box to the supermarket, choice is an unobtainable illusion. For the corporations, this illusion is necessary to maintain profits and build brand identity. In effect, the corporations benefit from our lack of ability to ‘choose’.

Fast food outlets such as Burger King and McDonalds claim that they offer their ‘diners’ a choice yet, how can this truly be the case? To truly offer a choice, the consumer would have to be fully informed. This would mean informing the consumer where the products were sourced, their nutritional values and their environmental impact. But of course, such legislation would lead to extra costs and a subsequent loss of business as consumers discover what it is they are actually eating. In effect, choice would lead to the collapse of their business models and must therefore be resisted at all costs. It is this reason, and this reason alone, that many major players in the food industry are determined to obstruct plans to truly offer the consumers choice.

Many leading manufacturers, including Tesco and Kellogg’s, are pulling out all the stops to prevent them being forced to give clear nutritional guidelines to the consumer. Choice scares them. They know only too well, that when the consumer becomes informed about the products they buy, their habits change. The giveaway sign that they are scared is the use of the threat of job cuts. At a recent lobbying event for MPs, Kellogg’s European president reminded them that Kellogg’s was a ‘large employer in the UK’. However, the likelihood of this threat amounting to anything is pretty slim. Kellogg’s currently has its largest manufacturing plant at Old Trafford and the UK is its largest market in Europe. Are Kellogg’s really going to give up their largest European market if MPs reject these attempts to obstruct consumer choice? Of course not. But then it would be a little unlikely that our elected representatives would place choice of the consumer above the interests of a corporate giant.