Learning and Behavior Without Awareness: Their Implications to Consumer Behavior and Sovereignty

by Sadaomi Oshikawa



The concept of consumer sovereignty is one of the foundations of the western economic doctrine in which the consumers are assumed to cast the votes of purchasing dollars in the market and to help allocate the nation's scarce resources to the satisfaction of their wants. To the extent they determine what is to be manufactured and how it is to be marketed, the consumers are sovereign and king. John Kenneth Galbriath challenges this concept in his book "The New Industrial State." He states that due to huge investment requirements, today's firms cannot take a chance on being wrong in product selection, but instead attempts to control consumer demand to reduce the element of risk. It is Galbraith's contention that the consumer is a managed element in the economic system and his purchases are planned by those who supply the goods and services, thereby insuring that he will buy what is produced. This issue has an important bearing on consumer sovereignty and boils down to whether the consumer can learn new overt and covert behavior without becoming aware of influence by persuasive attempts. If he can control and resist the attempts, the concept of consumer sovereignty is tenable. But, if the seller's persuasive communication influences the consumer without his awareness, consumer sovereignty is restricted.

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