My friend Allegra and I were hanging out the other day, talking about classes and stuff, while she reviewed for a different Econ class – 101, I believe. So we’re sitting there chatting, her only half paying attention, when she scoffs at her paper. It’s one of the questions from a corrected p-set, she tells me. It’s about black markets and whether or not a black market would be created if the supply of blue jeans was severely restricted or banned altogether. Allegra had replied that no, a black market wouldn’t have been created because there are substitutes and everybody would just wear sweats – pants is pants is pants, in her mind. Her grader marked it incorrect, of course, because jeans are a niche market.
Whether or not you agree with Allegra’s answer, it got me thinking about advertising. We’re fairly well-aware of the enormous role it plays in our lives, but in some cases we’re almost helpless against it. I mean, for utilitarian purposes, all pants are created equal. But would ‘Hey, Madeline’ condone switching out skinny jeans for corduroy bell-bottoms under your favorite tunic shirt? And for our purposes, where would advertising fit in to a solidarity economy?
In my mind, there would absolutely have to be regulation of some sectors of advertising. Take, for example, ads for medications. We are constantly inundated with them – on TV, in magazines, in the paper, on the internet, and even in pop culture. And we have them for every undesirable situation imaginable. Want to have sex longer? Have some Viagra. Want to ‘control your period’? Try birth control! Sleep assistant, habit kicker, bone densifier, cancer combatant – they’re all out there to solve your problems! (Just made up some words there, but you get the idea.) My mom’s a nurse back home, and she said you wouldn’t believe the amount of money people spend on their meds because they’ve been trained on all the brand names, and these brand names feel entitled to charge more, because they can. There are people in my state (Vermont) who will drive up to Canada to fill prescriptions because advertising up there is severely limited and as a result, the meds are cheaper. Wouldn’t it go a long way towards public health if we could lower the costs of medications?
But in some cases, aren’t creating niche markets okay? We wouldn’t want to destroy the fair-trade market, which relies on advertising (usually right on the packaging) to help us differentiate between it and the five other brands of coffee bean in the supermarket. On the other hand, the astronomical cost of ads often prevents us from even knowing about a better, more sustainable alternative that comes from a business without the means to purchase a fighting chance in the national or global markets. But where do we draw the line between good niche markets and bad? As it is, advertising is regulated within each industry anyways, but which ones do we want to place restrictions on for the benefit of the common good? In some cases, preventing a business from becoming too global and corporate is a good thing, but maybe if we did away with corporate advertising altogether, it would eliminate the problem.
I don’t think it’s a very realistic possibility, but it’s an interesting thing to consider. I do think something to that effect, though, would go a long way in decentralizing aspects of production, which would give us a claim to more accountability and a way of regulating other parts of businesses that need fixing. It’s a lot easier to call an industry out on its faults when its center of production is in your backyard. Not that I’m against a global market – but if businesses exist within a community, and every community holds itself responsible for enforcing good business practices, then it promotes a sort of global trust network between communities. And it all ties back into the idea of socially-responsible business practices and the like, which has been a continual theme in our class.
Whew, that was a lot of ground to cover. Thanks for bearing with me?