Which System Was Superior in the Cold War?



It was May 1962, in the midst of the Cold War propaganda contest over which system was superior. U.S. President John F. Kennedy told a gathering of businessmen that “the difference between America and the Soviet Union is the supermarket. The difference between what you can put in a shopping basket in an hour is the difference between the U.S. and USSR.”* The story that Daiei’s founder, Isao Nakauchi, was so moved by these words that he spread his supermarkets around Japan is well-known. Kennedy had delivered a historic speech two months earlier. It was a special speech, which for the first time described consumer rights — the right to safety, the right to be informed and so on. He considered protecting consumer rights indispensable for a society where supermarkets provide a huge quantity of products.

It is the first test of that kind of “supermarket society.” Faced with crowded supermarkets, Tokyo has requested using them once every three days as a measure against the new coronavirus. But supermarkets, coping with workers worried about infections and impoverished by customers’ claims, warn of the danger of a “supermarket collapse.” In a time when “Stay Home” has become a catchphrase, supermarkets have become supply bases that support regional lifestyles. Cooperating with measures that safeguard them from infection and poverty should top the list of consumer rights; it’s the same thing as ensuring the right to safety. Twenty years after Kennedy’s speech, Consumers International also recognized the obligations of consumers. One of these is social concern, which means being aware of the effects of consumer actions on others, particularly the disadvantaged. This is the moral basis of the supermarket society.

*This quote, though accurately translated, cannot be verified.

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