Social Justice

The Butterfly Effect of Societal Externalities

We’re all becoming increasingly aware that our choices as consumers have an effect on the world around us.

We’re aware that a liter of cola isn’t good for you and supporting a conglomerate does much less good for your community than a local shop.

We’re ‘voting with our dollar’ by consciously choosing to buy from local, purpose-driven brands, and to consume less sugar. We’re influencing demand with our choices.

The influence of “The Man”

Meanwhile, ‘The Man’ is using their grotesquely massive influence to lobby against profit-throttling regulations and become ‘The Man’ behind all your favorite ethical brands, $7.25 is considered a living wage, and companies like Amazon still aren’t considered to be monopolistic.

So how is it that you as a consumer can possibly affect a system that seems a bit out of reach?

Much in the way that the Butterfly Effect theorizes that a butterfly’s wings in Asia can impact weather patterns elsewhere, there is an economic theory that suggests that the actions you take as consumers can create a chain of effects on the corporate machine.

Enter, the Theory of Externalities

So, in case you slept through Econ101 like *cough* some of us at The Active Consumer did, we’ll be using the pages within Societal Impact to explore the butterfly effect of externalities that can come with consumption, using Fast Food as the common theme.

We’ll also suggest ways a collective group of consumers can fight back.

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A picture full of sugar to depict Americas dependence

The External Costs of Fast Food

From afar, visualizing any significant impact on our society from Fast Food may seem like a stretch (apart from the health issues we’ve heard so much about).

It’s probably the last thing you think about when grabbing a combo meal after a long day at work.

But when you start to consider the incredible power these corporations have to establish food deserts, influence what we’re consuming as a society, and create their own civil rights narratives, the impacts begin to seem limitless.

Behind the veil of slick, multi-billion dollar marketing campaigns , you’ll see that these campaigns aren’t created because they want your kid to be happy with their meal.

Fast Foods guage on human value

What’s the Customer Lifetime Value CLV (total amount of money a consumer will spend on your products during their life) of a healthy, middle-aged person? Not much. 

What’s the CLV of an addicted youth? Massive. The value of an addicted youth from a poor area without disposable income for healthy foods. Gigantic. There is a reason black teens are more than twice as likely to see a commercial for Fast Food in 2017.

The benefits of a healthy lifestyle are undeniable: more energy, better mental health, fewer physical health issues, and… saving money.

Saving money may seem counterintuitive. A $5 combo meal is less than a $7 salad, but let us introduce external costs.

Paying the cost

Who ends up paying for the rising healthcare premiums? Who pays for the monetary and mental effects of a new franchise taking the place of a would be park, community program, or mental health facility? It’s definitely not the business.

These are the external costs of consumption, and when they go unpaid, they result in externalities; like rising healthcare for all, homelessness, food desserts, and appropriation.

Exploring Externalities

The following pages highlight the unintended consequences of Fast Food on our Communities, Health, and Human Rights.

We challenge you to get creative and explore the external costs and resulting externalities that may come from the things you buy in your day-to-day lives.

Whether that’s buying a piece of art from the nearest big-box store rather a Farmer’s Market vendor, or buying a new video game rather than a weekend rental in the woods with your closest friends.

*btw, there are also a handful of positive externalities that come with fast food, we’ll have a blog post about that here soon







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