An Open Letter to Richard Cordray

richard cordrayDear Mr. Cordray:

Congratulations on your recent appointment to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I’m confident I speak for millions of people when I say it’s about time for this kind of effort on behalf of American citizens.

I have one simple suggestion that won’t cost much, but it could have a lasting positive effect on our democracy. Please rename your agency. Stop calling us consumers. We are Citizens with a capital C. In addition, please lead an effort to ask all kinds of media to follow suit.

Nothing captures the contemporary dilemma of political disengagement more than the commercial reality of consumer versus citizen. So many people view the government not as us but as them. “We the people” means that we are the government, because we are citizens, not because we are consumers. Citizens are responsible; consumers just devour.

Charles HayesCitizen versus consumer is an issue that transcends political affiliation. Arguments about inequality aside, I don’t think it’s that hard to convince the political left, right, or center, that a return to the ubiquitous use of the word citizen, while scrapping the word consumer, would have a positive effect for democracy. It seems like such a small thing, and some will no doubt think it silly, but it would likely result in a paradigm shift in democratic expectations.

Sincerely,

Charles D. Hayes
Wasilla, Alaska
autodidactic.com
septemberuniversity.org

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Comments

  1. Autpress says

    Joe,
     

    You make
    some thoughtful points. But has the conservative effort to reframe everything
    the government does as evil made it not possible to believe that a government
    agency can function democratically regardless of whether the employees are
    elected or that they are members of the executive branch? Our lives as citizens are governed
    by a vast array of laws . That the laws of commerce should obliterate every
    other law to the point that the unconscious assumption is that the main role of
    Americans is the duty to shop is to my thinking absurd. We can lobby as citizens in any manner we choose with any agency we choose and any agency can act as if we are something more than consumers.

    Charles

  2. JoeWeinstein says

    Right aim, wrong move. 
    Hayes correctly identifies our main problem correctly as ‘political disengagement’, where the government is viewed largely as ‘them’ not ‘us’.  As he notes, this problem is highlighted by the big difference between the concepts ‘consumer’ and ‘citizen’.   To start dealing with this disengagement Hayes suggests renaming a particular new government agency with the word ‘citizen’ replacing ‘consumer’. 

    Hayes’ proposal is well intentioned, but actual renaming would be triply dishonest and would thereby subvert, not promote, genuine democratization and citizen involvement. 

    Dishonesty 1.  The new  agency will in fact serve us in our role as consumers (participants in commerce), not in our role as citizens (i.e. responsible participants in government). 

    Dishonesty 2.  The agency operatives will be not all sorts of ordinary citizens but just career employees of the Executive Branch.  In brief, the agency will still be just another part of the ‘them’ not ‘us’ that indeed is the government as we largely actually know it. 

    Dishonesty 3.  Mere renaming of agencies does not and cannot democratize a government whose key decision-making - by Legislative and Judicial branches and top Executive branch echelons – inherently by constitutional design is not democratic.  These decision-makers constitute a small oligarchic elite of long-term office holders, rather than a democratic alternative:  many short-term teams of ordinary citizens. 

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