We Are Citizens, Not Customers

citizen stampIn a recent blog post titled “We are citizens not customers,” Rob Schofield with NC Policy Watch expressed concern that the debate about school vouchers has turned parents into “customers,” forcing schools to compete for their “business.” He worries about how this customer service focus affects the relationship between citizens and their government:

And when citizens are treated like “customers” rather than owner/stakeholders, a subtle but important attitude shift is abetted. Rather than caring for their entire community as a whole, inhabitants are encouraged to worry about themselves, treat their neighbors as competitors and threats and confine their communal instincts to private charity.

This discussion reminded us of Words to Live By by William Deresiewicz.

We are all consumers. Which means what? That our main job, in this enterprise that we all share, is to use stuff up. … Citizens are active. Citizens do more than express a preference every other year. Citizens don’t just look after themselves, they take responsibility for the collective good—or rather, they look after themselves by taking responsibility for the collective good. In a republic, you don’t vote your private interest, you vote your conception of the common interest. And you don’t just vote. Maybe if we saw ourselves as citizens, then that is what we might become.

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