Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Influencing the social contract

So I was thinking about the social contract in general, when it comes to buying stuff. There's little, if anything, we consumers can do with most businesses to influence justice in payment. My personal boycott of Wal-Mart is too small to influence their employment practices. The managers and CEOs of any large organization whose goods or services I use will still be compensated beyond their worth, and will like as not peddle inferior products made in some third-world sweatshop, choke the air with carcinogens, and deforest the Amazon. For most of the stuff I buy, I'm well removed from the immediate effects of our decision, and even to the extent we're aware, there's not a whole hell of a lot we can do change them anyway. (I'm sure it makes me a bad person, but I haven't been willing to descend into pure aescticism to make a point.)

This is one reason to patronize local businesses. You can't do much about the supply chain, but since you're one of a small pool paying the people at the front end, and you have an idea of the sorts of business practices they utilize, you do influence some measure of equity. In the case of waiting tables, the difference between good tippers and bad seems to be an aware of the social contract. Maybe it's good that we know that one person. Restaurants are some of the most localized, and maybe the only one where we're expected to contribute voluntarily to the fair compensation of its employees. Even if we need to drop the charade of "performance," maybe we shouldn't let that handle go.

Up next: how would plumbers and real estate agents make out under that social contract model. (Or performance model?)

[Note that I feel guilty pushing the page with what's basically a reply, but any pointers to the recent schism seem just as good buried...]