The Magazine

Buyers Beware

A guide for the perplexed, reflexively leftist, consumer.

Jan 18, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 17 • By MARTIN MORSE WOOSTER
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Safeway, says The Blue Pages, had to pay part of a $22.4 million fine for not paying its workers overtime and was “named in a lawsuit” with two other California supermarket chains accused of colluding to simultaneously lock out workers in the event that one of them was struck by a union. However, Safeway uses solar energy in 23 of its California stores, and the Human Rights Campaign gives the company 75 out of 100 in its Corporate Equality Index—even though the company won’t pay for sex-change operations.

Two points should be made about The Blue Pages’s methods. The first concerns tort reform. For the authors, all lawsuits are good lawsuits. We are repeatedly told when a company is sued, but not told who is doing the suing, how much money the trial lawyers made in the suit, or whether the lawsuit resulted in constructive change or just made trial lawyers even richer without providing any benefit to consumers. 

The second lacuna concerns corporate philanthropy. The Blue Pages provides sporadic information about corporate giving, but not about gifts to liberal activists. For, as the Capital Research Center has repeatedly shown, large corporations are far more likely to support the enemies of capitalism than champions of free enterprise. The center’s most recent research, conducted in 2006, surveyed the Fortune 100 corporations and found that these companies gave $59 million to leftwing organizations but only $4 million to rightwing groups. Readers of this book, however, will not know which liberal groups get corporate money.

The Center for Responsive Politics, which provided the political contribution data in this book, acknowledges funding from six large foundations. Readers of The Blue Pages can’t connect these foundations with their corporate parents. For example, the wealth which endows the Pew Charitable Trust comes from Sun Oil (now Sunoco). Readers are told that Sunoco was a guilty party in class action lawsuits involving the alleged carcinogen MTBE and for oil spills in an unspecified wildlife refuge—but not that the wealth created by the company made The Blue Pages possible. 

The readers of The Blue Pages are liberals who fret about everything: Czech labor practices, polluting Indian soda companies, California labor unions, and transgendered people everywhere. But to be concerned about everything is to be concerned about nothing. What consumer chooses a supermarket based on whether California workers are more important than Czech ones? Who can say that Indian pollution is more or less important than workers in El Salvador—particularly if you’ve never been to India or El Salvador?

There’s a simpler way consumers can ensure that their purchases help constructive social change. Buy what you need, buy what’s on sale—and donate the money you save to charities you like. That’s a far better way to produce constructive social change than the tortured calculus of The Blue Pages.

Martin Morse Wooster is a senior fellow at the Capital Research Center and author, most recently, of The Great Philanthropists and the Problem of ‘Donor Intent.’

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