Many times we as consumers are well aware of the benefits and also some of the harms caused by buying a product.
However, it is objectively not possible to ascertain if the overall utility (benefits minus harm) are positive or negative, often because the supply chains, social, political, and environmental circumstances are hidden to us. Let us list some of the factors for consideration.
Benefit from buying a product
- Personal utility to basic needs of the buyer (livelihood, safety, security, hygiene, health)
- Personal utility to pleasure of the buyer (happiness, personal growth, knowledge, skill, independence, savings)
- Utility to family and social environment
- Utility to humanity, future society, grandchildren (ethical products)
- Income to the worker producing the item
- Capital for the enterprise to invest in better products
- Earning from secondary services (banking, distribution, transport, advertisement)
Harm from buying a product
- Reduction of personal monetary assets
- Environmental impact from production (including raw material sourcing)
- Environmental impact from secondary services
- Environmental impact from product packaging
- Environmental impact from planned obsolescence
- Environmental impact from lack of quality
- Environmental impact from stolen right to repair
- Buyer stress from deceptive packaging and deceptive practices
- Buyer stress from closed source unknown functionality
- Buyer stress from vendor lock in
- Buyer stress from backdoors, spying, privacy deprivation
- Buyer stress from stealing, attacks, phishing, fraud, ransom
- Buyer stress from expired or voided guarantee, or other source of non reparability (unavailable service or parts, no right to repair)
- Buyer stress from planned obsolescence or from lack of quality
- Buyer stress from reeducation needed after product changes
- Buyer stress from unethical production practices (extortion, underpayment, child labor, pollution)
- Loss of interpersonal communication and closeness (abuse of product)
- Loss of health (for unhealthy, unsafe, risky products)
- Loss of income for smaller or regional producers from big companies (price fixing, trade agreements)
- Eradication of small regional producers and negative consequences thereof (global transport environ impact, loss of diversity and competition)
- Oligarchies or monopolies determine prices (not supply and demand)
- Loss of democratic influence due to producer lobbyism (preferential natural resource access, reduced natural resource purchase price)
- Rise of regulations that benefit the producer, not the consumer
- Regional (state, country) protectionism that increases consumer prices
Benefit from not purchasing = inverse harm from purchasing. Harm from not purchasing = inverse benefit from purchasing.
Not all factors must be equally valid for all products or buyer situations. Therefore punctual analysis must be done for specific situations.
Further refinement of this concept would add objective values to the contributing functions in order to be able calculate the utility of a product unit for a specific user: U = Sum(Benefits) - Sum(Harms)
Evaluate your own consumption. Influence your choices.