I signed the Hope Accord.
6 November 2023

Ethical consumerism is a kind of scam

My view on ethical consumerism is that it is essentially a kind of scam. I don’t know how much of it is really a deliberate conspiracy—maybe none of it—but the idea is basically this: to the extent that you can get individual consumers, who don’t actually have any power over what gets produced or how it’s produced, to accept the moral responsibility for those things, you can remove that burden from industry and politics.

We’re not hunter-gatherers anymore, so we don’t have the option of having complete control over our own supply chain and doing everything as ethically as possible. But we still need to get things from the natural world, like meat, other food, and energy. How we organise that in modern society is by mass-producing things and selling them in shops.

You and me are not responsible for how that happens, and we should not feel guilty about it. Our contract with society is that we go into the shop and buy what we want. Of course there will be examples where we have a strong gut response to a particular product, and that response might make us not want to buy that product. But it’s not necessary or desirable for us to bring higher-level philosophical thought to bear on these decisions. All that would achieve, in reality, would be to make our lives more difficult than they already are.

We should of course have some interest in ethical issues related to the supply chain, but it is not our job to solve problems like deforestation and factory farming every time we go to the shop with limited money, time, and choices. These problems should be solved at the political level and at the point of production.