A drop in the bucket isn’t enough

Marketplace Staff Apr 5, 2007
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A drop in the bucket isn’t enough

Marketplace Staff Apr 5, 2007
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KAI RYSSDAL: Pepsi wants better-looking cans. And so it unveiled a design contest yesterday: $10,000 and your drawing on 500 million of those cans if you win.

The soda company’s trying to push back against healthier consumers. They’re choosing fancy bottled water or other drinks over Pepsi’s brand-named product. Commentator Benjamin Barber says water in convenient packaging might be nice to have, but it’s a symptom of capitalism gone bad.


BENJAMIN BARBER: Capitalism used to be the perfect recipe for joining self-interest to altruism. Produce a good to answer real human needs, and the world becomes a better place while you make a profit.

But today, in the developed world, a great many “core” wants and needs have already been met. So, capitalism’s busy manufacturing needs to sell all the goods it produces to people who don’t need the stuff — until the marketers persuade them they do.

Bottled water is a classic example. It creates a phony need among the well-heeled for the same H20 they can get from their taps — to the tune of $10 billion in sales a year.

But it doesn’t address the real need for clean water among the world’s 3 billion water-needy.

Take Starbuck’s Ethos bottled water. The company recently organized marches around World Water Day to raise awareness of the global water crisis. Who wouldn’t applaud those efforts?

But Ethos Water just contributes to global inequality, it doesn’t solve it. Ethos pretends to address global needs by promising to send 5 cents on every two buck unnecessary bottle of water sold.

That’s a drop in the bucket. You really want to help meet real Third World needs? Then stop buying bottled water altogether. And every time you drink a glass of tap water, send the whole two bucks you just saved to Unicef or Mercy Corps.

Or better yet, if you’re an entrepreneur, figure out how you can help Africans manufacture small pumps that tap clean ground water, or water filters from the clay under their feet. You’ll be serving humanity and making money — millions who live in poverty do, potentially have real, collective earning power. I bet they’d pay a few cents to buy those filters.

That would get us back to the way capitalism is supposed to work — by producing goods that meet real needs.

RYSSDAL: Benjamin Barber’s latest book is called “Consumed.”

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