Excerpt from The Good, The Bad and The Difference by Randy Cohen, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Good, The Bad and The Difference

How to Tell Right from Wrong in Everyday Life

by Randy Cohen

The Good, The Bad and The Difference
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2002, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2003, 256 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Commercial Life

Whoever commits a fraud is guilty not only of the particular injury to him who he deceives, but of the diminution of that confidence which constitutes not only the ease but the existence of society.
- Johnson, Rambler #79 (December 18, 1750)

That this is one of the book's longest chapters is unsurprising: It takes up the ethics of commercial transactions, our culture's most common sort of human interaction. One way or another, these questions involve money. In particular, they deal with shopping and with the essential conflict between buyer and seller. The former wants to pay the lowest price, the latter wants to receive the highest; the temptations of deceit are powerful. That is why the used-car dealer has long been depicted as a reviled and tormented soul. If the car had been invented one hundred years earlier, Verdi would no doubt have written an opera about a used-car dealer. (And he would have taken very different sorts of vacations, perhaps driving along the seacoast with a backseat full of kids singing "Are We There Yet?")

There is an entire body of ethics and a great deal of law designed to keep the wheels of commerce turning smoothly, and that's not entirely a bad thing. It's nice to be able to buy groceries knowing that your pound of coffee is an actual pound. And actual coffee. And it makes the shopkeeper's job more relaxing if he can be confident that you'll pay for it, rather than slip it down your trousers. (And it makes your guests happier, knowing they won't be drinking trouser coffee.)

Commercial codes are ancient and nearly universal; laws touching on business practices can be found among Roman law, and farther back among the Egyptians and Babylonians. The earliest such provisions were little more than caveat emptor, but we have made a kind of moral progress. In America, there has been something of a revival of such codes under the rubric of consumerism. Most Americans appreciate measures to ensure that today even the unwary are unlikely to buy tainted pork or a cardboard sedan.

But an uneasy tension persists between consumerism and commerce. We are, after all, a country that both discourages the sale of tobacco, a toxic product, and subsidizes its cultivation. Were you to introduce some other new product that killed off its users at so impressive a rate--some kind of exploding hat, perhaps--one suspects that Congress would take more vigorous steps to discourage its sale (at least to minors).

Health and safety are not the only factors in the creation of consumer law. Tradition and self-interest also play their parts. Philip Morris is reluctant to give up its enormous profits; tobacco farmers find a sentimental comfort (and a hardscrabble livelihood) in the family farm. Of course, similar arguments have been made by Colombian cocaine cartels and small coca growers. Someday, perhaps, a satisfyingly ironic solution to our tobacco problem will be found when the Colombian government sends us a billion dollars in foreign aid so we can attack the big tobacco traffickers and shift the small farmers to alternative crops, something less deadly and less addictive. Marijuana?

There are broad ethical implications in what is sometimes referred to as the "consumer movement." Its virtues are those of our democracy itself, high among them being truthfulness and the free flow of information that enables consumers (and citizens) to make informed choices, albeit when choosing breakfast cereal rather than a congressman (although, come to think of it, lately there may be less of a distinction here than the Founding Fathers could have anticipated).

And yet, conceding the righteousness of this crusading zeal, there is something in me that does not wish to be referred to as a "consumer." It smacks of the French Revolution somehow, only instead of being addressed as Citizen Cohen, I'm now Consumer Cohen, an honorific that rather overemphasizes a single sphere of existence. The problem is not so much that commerce dominates public life, it is that commerce is public life. It is often noted that too few of us vote, but we turn out in impressive numbers to any event that includes the phrase "10 percent Off!" We spend less time in the town square than we do at the mall, where there is, for example, no guarantee of free speech (although there is occasionally a nice free sample of cheese at that snack shop). All too often, shopping is what we have instead of civic activity.

  • 1
  • 2

Copyright Randy Cohen. All rights reserved.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Stalin's Daughter
    by Rosemary Sullivan
    "There is something fatal about my life. You can't regret your fate, though I do regret my ...
  • Book Jacket: A Certain Age
    A Certain Age
    by Beatriz Williams
    Lovers of high-society gossip, there's a new set of players in town. A good 20 out of 23 of our...
  • Book Jacket: The Romanovs
    The Romanovs
    by Simon Sebag Montefiore
    The Romanovs chronicles the reigns of the 20 individuals who were considered members of that dynasty...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Imperial Wife
    by Irina Reyn

    A smart, engaging novel that parallels two fascinating worlds and two singular women.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    All Is Not Forgotten
    by Wendy Walker

    This is fast-paced psychological suspense/thriller at it's very best.

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Girl Waits with Gun
by Amy Stewart

An enthralling novel based on the forgotten true adventures of one of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Summer Stunner
Summer Giveaway

Win 5 books, each week in July!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

W M T N, W C F All

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

BookBrowse Summer Giveaway

We're giving away
5 books every
week in July!