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“We’re no longer citizens, we’re customers”

Written By: - Date published: 9:51 am, September 23rd, 2016 - 32 comments
Categories: capitalism, Economy, equality - Tags:

Ann Pettifor, in New Zealand for lectures on the state of the financial world, talks to Nine-to-Noon about its most pressing problems.

The UK economist was one of the few to predict the 2008 GFC, and now says our biggest problems stem from economists and the finance sector to ‘marketise’ society and to “turn us all into customers for everything”.

“We’re no longer citizens, we’re no longer workers, we’re customers, all along the line. And all of our relationships must, they argue, be marketised.


[Those without assets] are getting poorer, because they cannot live on their existing income, because we don’t pay wages or salaries that allow people to live a decent life. So they have to supplement that, with all of these additional marginal activities.

“That’s what’s wrong with the way we have allowed the markets to take control of our economies and for the invisible hand to decide who gets what, is those who are left behind – and the left-behinders voted for Brexit, the left-behinders are voting for Trump, and they’re voting for Le Pen, the fascist in France – we need to worry about that.”

Worth a listen.

Mike Smith advertised Ms Pettifor’s Fabians lecture earlier this week – it may have a podcast on their site soon? (not yet…)  Policy Observatory have an interview with her up too.

32 comments on ““We’re no longer citizens, we’re customers” ”

  1. Ad 1

    We’ve had this descriptive language for interactions for over 30 years. Her observations aren’t new. It’s arguable that – while the ‘customer-service’ language is embedded – it’s nowhere near as strong as it used to be.

    I’m not even sure what good it would do if the old citizen-state interaction language was reinstated, other than to feel like the old implied contract was somehow back in the ether. When it isn’t.

    • Bill 1.1

      Think you’re missing the point Ad. She’s not just referring to language or terminology.

      Let’s go back a bit. Marx condemned the dehumanisation associated with the commodification of labour – ie, the notion that a person’s labour (time and activity) was just something to be bought and sold.

      For the past 30 years or so, we’ve had a creep of that commodification so that more and more human interactions are commodified (made subject to market rules).

      Today we might say we cultivate a culture whereby people are expected to pay top dollar for what we used to give for free. It’s rampant free market b/s, the logical end point of which would see every human interaction attracting a price.

      And people are forced to expand that culture of commodification because the older one – the one that began and ended with a person’s labour in relation to the job they had – just doesn’t come with enough compensation. So to stand still, (so the argument goes) people are desperately monetising just about anything they put their minds to or lay their hands on.

      • Ad 1.1.1

        Oh agreed.
        She’s just not fresh.

        • Paul

          Neo-liberalism is not fresh.
          It is rotten

          • save nz

            Yep the point is that a lot of people are saying the same things, but politicians are not listening. That is why we are having declining voting etc. If politicians do not listen to social cues then that is one reason why in particular the left wing politicians are not doing as well as they should. Or the left wing has become a right wing entity (Blairitism, Rogernomics) and so destroy trust and create disharmony of left ideas and ideals.

            Neoliberalism divides people and creates fear and inequality. Half the population are fearful and voting for it, the other half are mixed and a good percentage not voting mostly because some of the opposite message is the Neoliberal Lite message OR a 20th century socialist message that does not resonate to many.

            • Draco T Bastard

              Neoliberalism divides people and creates fear and inequality.

              Actually, that’s simply capitalism and other capitalist type socio-economic systems. Divide and rule as the saying goes.

      • Incognito 1.1.2

        As the saying goes “if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product”.

        However, it seems to be that the boundary between customer and product has become more diffuse and you can simultaneously be customer and product. Maybe we should call it prodomer, which does not seem to be too far removed from the word “prodrome”, or custduct.

      • Adrian 1.1.3

        @Bill Exactly right in your analysis.
        One of our first steps is to demand of our media, that they stop referring to the citizens of the country as consumers.
        I also believe, the language of the media (all media) and how it frames and defines peoples view of the world and their place in it, is of vital importance.
        Constantly reinforce the image of a person in society as a mere consumer of goods and services, whose greatest achievement would be to find a way to exploit other consumers for capital gain, then by and large that is what you will get.
        Constantly frame and empower that same person as a citizen with valid views and perspectives on the direction and issues of their community, and that one of the greatest achievements they could undertake as a citizen is to participate in building a maintaining a healthy, fair, progressive community, and by and large you will get that result.

  2. TC 2

    Customers is generous, more like schmucks being sold on the illusion that you have a freedom of choice.

    Guardian has a piece on the lost generation based on a recent UK survey. Those without assets, the ability to procure any, living at home etc as the period they have come of age into is lacking the necessary opportunity, services, resources etc.

  3. ianmac 3

    Ann said that the marginalised are looking to the leadership of someone such as Jeremy Corbyn as a possible saviour for the hopeless position that they are in. She thought that if he was eliminated, then the marginalised would turn to the extreme left or extreme right. Trump/Le Pren.
    Meanwhile back here in sleepy old NZ…

  4. And when we work for the large companies, we are classified as “units” , not people.

    The world has gone mad alright.

  5. NZJester 5

    We are not customers, we are indentured servants or serfs.

  6. Takere 6

    As customers…. This National government just can’t stop giving things away that don’t belong to them … NZ’s Wealth & Soe’s & Crown debt (DMO off the books debt -$112bn) now is 54% owned by foreign Investors/Creditors.
    In the earlier part of the 2000’s foreign indebtedness was in the low 30’s. With a bit of off the books account courtesy of Blinglish Accounting Software there’s more!
    -$600bn of residential & rental property “land” values are not included in the inflation calculation either. NZs Nett (Debt) International Positions floating around -$163.3bn/65% of GDP.
    The gift to all kiwi’s from the National Government …. a debt laden future for generations to come ….

    • Colonial Viper 6.1

      just write it off.

      • Takere 6.1.1

        Haha! It would be great if “We” did what Iceland did. In less than 5 years, they’re back. But I’m guessing. The owners of the debt would sell it to “Vulture Funds” who arrest , hold onto your assets like what happened to Argentina’s War Ship(s) that were ceased in the US when they were there until a payment was made. Maybe we could collectively put up the wealth of the 283 kiwis with more than $50m as security when it comes to that?

        • Colonial Viper

          It’s just accounting, finally. Just find the right sort of accountant to sort it 🙂

  7. Andrea 7

    In its time ‘citizen’ was just as hollow and soothing as ‘consumer’ or ‘client’ or ‘customer’. No rights at all. Says so in the finest of fine print.

    Perhaps that anodyne label from the medical centres – ‘patient’?

  8. RedLogix 8

    Our relationship with the our rulers and overlords has always been unequal. Whether we called them our master, owner, lord, king, el-presidente … or these days CEO …. the power imbalance was always fraught.

    The notion of ‘equal before the law’ and ‘citizenship’ is in historic terms relatively new. We are still evolving the significance of this.

    Personally I think in another few generations our heritage concepts of leadership will morph into something that has far stronger connotations of ‘responsibility’ to the community. The drama and attraction of power will be replaced with an entirely different mode of leadership that is centred in the idea of service.

  9. keepcalmcarryon 9

    There is value to everything in the known universe.
    Capitialism says that value equals money in every instance yet clearly money is only one measure of value and not always relevant.
    a) Why do we allow the system to perpetuate?
    b) Please solve, showing all working.


    • vto 9.1

      answer: throw the entire world up in the air, let people and things fall randomly where they fall, start again

  10. vto 10

    Do you think John Key would have any depth of understanding about these concepts??

    • vto 11.1

      as opposed to private ones such as

      pike river
      the entire finance sector
      stonewood homes

      shall we do some comparison lists?

      edit: btw, the NY Times wouldn’t be one of the biggest cogs in the US establishment would it? Conflicted much? sheeesh…

  11. mary_a 12

    The dirty neo lib game which began over 30 years ago, was specifically designed to depersonalize the citizenry into compliant consumer commodities, with the sole purpose of serving the wealthy elite of the land.

    Hopefully, Kiwis in particular will wake up soon and take to the streets in acts of civil disobedience and passive resistance, protesting against the manipulating, corrupt, greedy predators, which dominate our socio/economic structure, aided and abetted by crooked cesspit dwelling political vermin, disguised as the peoples’ representatives!

    • Draco T Bastard 12.1


    • Jono 12.2

      I think we will see civil unrest in our time. If inequality continues to divide this nation the people at the bottom will have nothing left to lose. They will fight back once they are pushed into a corner. It happened in France remember…

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