An absence of consumer scruples

We will have to wait a while before we can assess the public’s reaction to an appeal by national consumer organizations for a three-day market boycott, culminating today, as a protest against high prices. But in my view there is little cause for great optimism, as the typical Greek citizen hardly has what is known as a «consumer conscience» and is far more likely to believe that his abstinence would have little or no impact on the practices of unscrupulous traders. Of course, if we really wanted to make a statement, we could express our objection to steep price hikes by boycotting a range of specific products, rather than depriving ourselves of our daily staples. And, to be honest, three days of abstinence from our daily shopping is not such a hardship. The prevalence of this attitude is partly due to the fact that the «consumer movement» in Greece is far less serious and organized than equivalent initiatives in other European countries and that it enjoys far less state support. In other countries, a closer cooperation between the state and consumer groups means that the public acquires useful insights regarding price variations in the market. Here, the general and abstract complaints about «shocking price hikes» and criticism of products which the media bombard us with without identifying the offending traders – along with the state’s insistence on sitting on the fence on this issue – are rather ineffective when it comes to changing the ways of the average consumer. Nevertheless, it is the state’s duty to intervene in this affair. The fact that price controls are ruled out does not mean that existing legislative provisions aimed at curbing instances of profiteering should not be implemented.