Sunday, February 15, 2009

Matthew Hilton's "Prosperity for All"

Matthew Hilton is Professor of Social History at the University of Birmingham. He is the author of Consumerism in Twentieth-Century Britain: The Search for a Historical Movement and Smoking in British Popular Culture, 1800–2000.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Prosperity for All: Consumer Activism in an Era of Globalization, and reported the following:
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have influenced the development of both the United Nations and globalization as a whole. Page 99 provides some rudimentary data on which NGOs have had the most impact at the UN. Surprisingly, it suggests that the most influential NGOs have not been those that have achieved the highest media profile - for instance, Friends of the Earth or Amnesty International - but those less glamorous bodies prepared to work behind the scenes in order to help shape and direct UN policies relating to health, the environment, and a whole host of issues connected to economic and social justice. High among this ranked list of NGOs is Consumers International, an international federation of consumers unions from all over the world - including Africa, Asia, Latin America as well as the affluent West.

Usually we associate consumer associations with the shopping guides sold as Consumer Reports in the US, Which? in the United Kingdom, Que Choisir in France and Test in Germany. Yet the global consumer movement has been involved in far more than just assisting shoppers to make ‘best buys’. Consumer International’s work as a campaigning NGO at the United Nations has meant organised consumer activists have impacted on areas as diverse as the regulation of breastmilk substitutes, pesticide use, tobacco products, hazardous goods, and the inappropriate marketing of pharmaceuticals. In so doing, their work raises questions about the very nature of consumer society: the central theme of the book as a whole. One argument that emerges from an analysis of global consumer activists is that to be a consumer is not simply about greater individual choice. It is also about the wider issues of access and participation. Indeed, consumer activists have proposed the regulation of the activities of multinational corporations and have effectively sought to reorient the global economy in consumers’ interests. As the rest of the book shows, the history of living in a consumer society means we have paid as much attention to basic needs as we have done to luxuries. It suggests that worries about the problems of having too much need to be analysed alongside the problems of having too little. Consumer society must serve the interests of the poor as well as of the rich.
Learn more about Prosperity for All at the Cornell University Press website.

Visit Matthew Hilton's University of Birmingham faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue