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The American Public's Outrage at Commodification

by John Spritzler

April 4, 2013

The more important is the product or service, the more the American public is outraged at its commodification. Health care and food are some of the most important services and products. Robust majorities of Americans have for decades supported making health care a right, not a commodity available only to those who might be able to afford to buy it in the marketplace. This is why Americans have told pollsters, and in the rare cases when given an opportunity to vote on the question have said, that they want a medicare for all or "single payer" system of health care insurance that will make health care a right for all. The evidence for this in online here.

When food that children need is made a commodity and denied to the children of families on the grounds that they have to pay for it first, what happens? The public is outraged. This happened in Attleboro, Massachusetts yesterday, as reported here, when "as many as 25 students at an Attleboro school were denied lunch or told to throw out their food this week because they either could not pay or their pre-paid accounts did not contain enough money." Parent outrage was so strong that the Superintendent of Schools was forced to suspend the contractor that provided lunches, and the contractor's vice president for marketing and community relations felt it necessary to apologize.

When it comes to books (and other media), which are important but not as much as food and health care, Americans are closely divided about making such things freely available to all. In a scientific telephone survey of 1,015 adults living in private households in the U.S. randomly selected to be representative of the U.S. population, when asked about their preferred future sources of library funding, a plurality of 46.8% chose "increasing taxes to cover the necessary cost," while 43% chose "the library charging people who use the library" and 10.2% chose "reducing the services the library offers to the public."

Most Americans probably don't mind that Rolex watches are only available to those who can afford to buy them. At the same time most Americans think that the degree of economic inequality that prevails in the United States is far too great, even though they currently believe the degree of such inequality is far less than it actually is; this is all beautifully described in this video.

Sure, it's true that Americans partake of the commodified economy we currently live in; what else can one do when the things one needs and wants are for the most part only available as commodities for purchase? What is more significant, however, for informing us about whether ordinary Americans are for or against commodification: 1) the fact that the American public buys commodities in a society ruled by a plutocracy that aggressively commodifies more and more things (as discussed in Why Are Families Under Attack?) and uses its control of all the major institutions including the mass media to promote the idea that everything should be a commodity, or 2) the fact that the American public, in spite of all the pressure from above to support commodification, opposes it vigorously the more important the products or services are? Clearly the latter is more significant. It reveals the fact that a revolutionary movement for a more equal and democratic world, based on sharing instead of buying and selling, as discussed in Thinking about Revolution, is very possible.

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