Society of customers

The air tragedy last Sunday resulted, above all, in massive loss of life and a great deal of accompanying pain. At the same time, it exposed the dark side of an uncaring world: the world of consumption and unfettered profiteering, a clumsy state apparatus, and the unforgivable loosening of safety inspections. The accident put the spotlight on low-budget air carriers and the logic that permeates their growth and operation: the aim of maximizing profits and reducing costs – even if this involves compromising safety standards and repressing reports of system malfunctions. Most alarmingly, this dominant logic of deregulation and lower adherence to – not to say disregard of – safety regulations was not exclusive to Helios Airways, the owners of the doomed airliner. This was just another manifestation of the logic that pervades EU governance and the globalized world in general. Respect for safety regulations depends on the good will of business people or on professionalism – which then suddenly becomes the highest of virtues, transcending the allure of unlawful profit or fraudulence. The market is said to be self-regulating. But even the most conscientious businessman will let his standards slide if he is their sole judge. The star-crossed airline had so far fulfilled its founding goal: to make a profit. Nowhere in the firm’s charter is there any mention of the obligation to protect customers and civil rights. This is not a company’s concern, but rather that of the much-derided state. It is the responsibility and right of politicians. When these fall short, citizens are demoted to the status of disposable customers, their rights amounting to the cost of a cheap ticket – if at all. This cost-rights equation is fatal for the customer-citizen and the society of customers in general.

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