The TESCO Society

What hides behind the catchy title above is one of many possible perspectives one could take to look at the so called Western society. In my eyes, it is a very important perspective, with whose help one may explain a lot of (negative) phenomena in the world of the rich. Although, I admit, it does not provide a straightforward solution to any of them.

The first step here shall be an explanation what TESCO actually is (at least those living in Germany often don’t know that). According to Wikipedia

Tesco plc (LSE: TSCO) is a global grocery and general merchandising retailer headquartered in Cheshunt, United Kingdom. It is the fourth-largest retailer in the world measured by revenues (after Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Metro) and the second-largest measured by profits (after Wal-Mart). It has stores in 14 countries across Asia, Europe and North America and is the grocery market leader in the UK (where it has a market share of around 30%), Malaysia and Thailand.

Once upon a time, when I still lived in Poland, the Polish TESCO had a beautifully uncomplicated slogan: “Dużo, tanio, Tesco”, which means: “Much, cheap, Tesco”. This slogan is much more beautiful because it perfectly reflects the mentality of our so called Western society: we want much. We want it cheap. No matter where the low prices come from.

Terrifyingly many people in the Western world just buy. We want things we buy to be cheap, so that we are able to buy even more. It seems to make us happy. So we think at least. One could argue that this is not real happiness – I would at least -, but in this post I would like to point out to some consequences of this kind of “pursuit of happiness” instead.

For this purpose I’ve chosen 5 examples for the negative consequences mentioned above – which are: unhealthy food; global warming; mistreating of animals; abuse of workers; monopolies. I shall explain each of them shortly:

  1. Unhealthy food: Germans are spending only 10% of their incomes on food. The British are spending 8%. Even the Italians and French are not spending as little as 15% on their nutrition. In historical comparison, this is very little. Of course, we are richer than our predecessors. But not that rich, actually. The reason why our food is so cheap is that its quality is awful. We are buying food packaged in plastic, full of flavour enhancers, preservatives, various regulators… It’s cheap. We can have a lot of that. But it is not healthy. Quite the opposite. Consider how many people in the West are obese, have diabetes, cancer, blood circulation diseases etc.
  2. Global warming: yes, even global warming has one of its main causes in our convenient, thoughtless “much, cheap,…” mentality. It wouldn’t be that complicated to fight climate change if we were ready to pay for it. But why shall we drive less, fly less (i.e., consume gasoline and kerosine, respectively), use green energy sources instead of coal, etc.? It is cheaper not to. And we can consume energy, drive car, fly by airplane without thinking much. Convenient, isn’t it?
  3. Animals mistreatment: hardly anyone in this society ever does think about why the meat, eggs, milk he buys are thus cheap actually. But why are they? Because the animals that produce them are living in horrible conditions, pumped up with antibiotics, manipulated in their life rhythm – just to squeeze out of them as much as possible as cheap as possible. Who cares when the prices are right (which they actually aren’t)?
  4. Worker abuse: how many people buy fair traded products (at least from time to time, they admittedly are expensive)? Few. Not so because we are cruel (not in a direct sense, at least). But because we prefer not to think about the people in Indonesia who made our clothes, nor about the people right around the corner who sold them to us in a retailer store. Both’s working conditions as well as their payment are mostly terrible (and it doesn’t matter that the Western retailer worker is still much better off than the tailor in the Third World). But as long as they do, the products we buy remain cheap. So, don’t think. Just buy.
  5. Monopolies: look at TESCO. Wal-Mart. Vodafone. Microsoft. Vattenfall. They are not objectively better than their competitors. But they have managed it to convince us that they are – cheaper. And that they provide us with more choice (for this, consider this post). In a convenient way. They are not the “bad monopolists”. We, the consumers, made them what they are.

There is a variant of the TESCO slogan: “Dużo, tanio, kiepsco” (kiepsko means something like poor, lousy). This is the reality. But we seem so focused on the first two characteristics that we ignore the third – their consequences. And this ignorance is a really bad idea. In the end, we are harming ourselves.

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