The Limitations of Consumer Sovereignty

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A woman is shopping.
A woman is shopping. (Image: MM Productions/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Consumer sovereignty represents the limits of consumers in various markets. Free market societies work to increase consumer sovereignty, giving consumers the ultimate decision in the products they purchase. Consumerism has limits -- many are clearly defined by laws, while others are defined by the consumer’s buying patterns and ability to consume.

Health of Others

Health concerns represent a primary limitation on consumer sovereignty. These concerns restrict consumers from purchasing items that are unhealthy, dangerous or are things that through normal use could endanger the health of others around you. Supporters for this limitation justify it with the idea that if your consumption of an item could lead to the endangering of another, use of the item should be limited. For instance, excessive use of alcohol impairs judgment and impedes your ability to perform normally; this justifies the restriction against selling alcohol to an individual who is already intoxicated to protect other drivers or individuals who may be put in danger.

The Law

The law represents another limitation on consumer sovereignty. While government designs most consumer sovereignty legal limitations around the idea of protecting others, the law can mandate consumer limitations or regulations for your own security. In these cases, the government replaces the justification for the protection of others with a justification that you have a responsibility to act in the best interest of your own personal safety. As an example, car manufacturers are required to build seat belts into every car, and car drivers are required to use them.

Physical Limitations

In a growing electronic environment, the reality of physical limitations on consumer sovereignty is restricted to the purchase of perishable items. Consumers can purchase larger, nonperishable items and have them delivered to their home in a reasonable amount of time. Still, physical limitations prevent consumers from purchasing items that may perish during delivery, out-of-season items or items specific to a distant location, such as food from a particular restaurant outside of your town.

Capital Limitation

The capital limitation represents the consumer’s economic ability to earn enough money to purchase various items. This limitation includes the price of items, supply of those items and the consumer’s ability and desire to pay prices over a specific level. As an example, if you wish to purchase the newest cellphone, you must have the money to afford the item and the desire to pay the advertised price.

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