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Evan Davis on... low income consumers

Updated Friday 30th October 2009

Does capitalism benefit low income consumers? Evan Davis, presenter of The Bottom Line, gives us his view.

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There is an argument that capitalism doesn’t serve people who don’t have very much money, that profit-hungry companies when they’re choosing where to allocate their resources will put it into serving people who have money, the well-off, the affluent, rather than trying to put it into serving the needs of low-income customers who don’t have much money and you’re never going to make any money out of.

You hear the argument best exemplified by the case of prescription drugs. The drug companies, they don’t put much money into curing malaria, which affects the developing world; they put a lot of money into trying to cure stomach ulcers, which affect the rich world. There’s definitely some truth in that line of argument. But there is a counterargument too which is worth dwelling on.

It’s that capitalism is very good at advancing the boundary of technology and producing things that will help people. They’ll produce drugs and eventually of course those drugs will be picked up and taken by the less well off. So capitalism isn’t a one-way street only for the rich and against the poor, and the internet provides a wonderfully good example.

Of course the internet is picked up and used by the well-off and primarily by the well-off, and it is still primarily by people in the better off spectrum, the middle class, rather than the socially-excluded. But piece by piece, bit by bit the internet has been used more by people lower down the income spectrum as it’s got cheaper to do so, and they can afford to do things that ten years ago, twenty years ago would have only been in the domain of the rich.

So yes capitalism has its weaknesses, but it also has its strengths. That’s my view. You can join the debate with the Open University.

 

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