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November 1, 2014
Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Don’t forget the consumer

At least consumer organizations have been granted a minimal concession in being given a hearing in the Senate both today and last week regarding the government’s consumer-related package but they should be claiming far more protagonism — most of the debate over this package has come down firmly on the side of either the state or big business without stopping to consider that the best defence of their own interests might come from consumers themselves. The recent anniversary of the constitutional reform 20 Augusts ago has prompted various recollections which underline how some aims have advanced more than others in the last two decades — thus human rights would definitely belong on the credit side while a more parliamentary government, reform of a dysfunctional judicial system and the environment would be strong candidates for the debit column. And also consumer rights.

That 1994 constitutional reform outlined an extremely ambitious agenda for protecting consumers from market abuse, guaranteeing the quality and efficiency of public services and multiplying effective mechanisms to ensure these aims. If so little of this agenda has been translated into reality, the various governments of the last two decades are obviously to blame but not exclusively — much was also expected of the non-governmental organizations clearly on the rise back then. Yet the rise of NGOs has been outweighed by a market concentration resulting in price abuses and distortions, a process which the state has taken upon itself to resist during the last decade of Kirchnerite populism while excluding and subduing all other mechanisms. The problem is that this resistance has been more rhetorical than real. The main business argument against this package has been to paint a picture of a bulldozer state barging into company decision-making at all levels — an argument which most authors of this legislation seem strangely reluctant to refute because it feeds their fantasies of omnipotent state planning (this picture would also have flattered the vanity of the previous Domestic Trade Secretary Guillermo Moreno). Yet the reality is that this bullying state has been a paper tiger with Moreno in particular cutting deals with the major economic players while the price rises and abuses have relentlessly continued.

There is an African proverb: “When two elephants fight, it’s the grass which suffers” yet the consuming public and its advocates should not just be self-pitying victims but demand a far more active participation.

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