The Cost of Low Prices – The Bill Is Coming

Listen to the Story

Once upon a time there was a small farming village where the families worked the land and grew what they needed. With a little luck and determination they survived. Over time however the natural resources that this village depended on were gobbled up by corporations. The water was being used to bottle beverages at one spot and as factory farm waste run-off at another spot. Farm land began being used to grow genetically modified seeds which, through natural processes, mingled with seeds at traditional family farms. Now the water isn’t free and the traditional farms were sued for patent infringement.

The people of this village no longer had the means to support themselves so they began migrating to places where they might be able to sustain their family. This is such a dangerous journey that it is only undertaken because their plight has become so great. Ironically, when they arrived at these places they found that many of the goods that destroyed their traditional livelihood had beat them there.

This anecdote isn’t related to just one place or time and it isn’t meant to demonize corporations, not exactly at least.

Because of course corporations don’t set out to displace people, destroy the environment or even make factory workers want to die. You won’t likely find a corporate mission statement that proclaims “we do evil”. In fact most companies set out to provide products that people want and in some cases actually need. The availability of many products is nothing short of a miracle because they require such gross exploitation to be produced and sold: exploitation of natural resources, of workers and the exploitation of our desires.

You see, the thing about exploitation is that you are getting something for less than its true value. However, exploitation doesn’t diminish the true value of a resource it only creates a gap between what is paid upfront and the overall cost. Eventually the higher cost of the true value must be equalized somewhere along the line.

And at the end of that line is us, the largest consumers of resources in the world. The US once held the motto of, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Now not only do we help create tired, poor huddled masses but we are also doing everything possible to keep that golden door slammed shut to them. The excuses for this behavior are many but what it really comes down to is our desire to keep pushing off that debt we as consumers owe to the people we’ve displaced and to the resources we so greedily waste.

Immigrants, oil spills and factory worker suicides are all line items on the bill that sooner or later must be paid – when that day comes will we be willing to pay it?

Andrew Miller hosts the blog Elephants on Bicycles -.