Sunday, July 24, 2005

The New York Times is smarter than us

Why is it that the aims of corporately funded interest groups are always viewed with suspicion, while the aims of interest groups without such strong corporate ties are always seen as undoubtedly pure? This piece was in this Sunday’s New York Time’s editorial page, questioning just what the true aims of the The Center For Consumer Freedom. God forbid they’re funded by the food and beverage industry.

"It [The Center For Consumer Freedom] assumes that your interests - as a free consumer - are synonymous with the interests of corporations that are being closely watched, and often openly opposed, by organizations like the highly respectable Center for Science in the Public Interest, a lead advocate in the fight against obesity."

This is supposed to be a jab at the Center for Consumer Freedom’s credibility. Yet is it beyond the pale of reasonable belief that the interests of corporations and the interest of individuals are not polar opposites? And why is it that the Center For Science in the Public Interest is highly respectable, while the Center For Consumer Freedom is viewed with such suspicion? The article goes on to accuse to the Center For Consumer Freedom of engaging in Orwellian doubletalk:

"It would hardly work for C.C.F. simply to tell the truth - to say to consumers, on behalf of the food and beverage industries, "Activists and watchdog groups are trying to stop us from selling you anything we want to sell you." Much better to say, "These groups are trying to prevent you from buying anything you want to buy." Then it becomes a matter of sustaining freedom, protecting individual rights and keeping the prairie of consumer choices unfenced."

After all, it can’t really be about freedom and individual rights, can it? Corporations don’t care about freedom, do they? The lonely libertarian must be too stupid to realize that the ability to purchase a wide variety of food and beverage products at low prices is actually a bad thing. At least we have the New York Time’s editorial staff to show us the error of our ways.

"Protecting "the full range of choices that American consumers currently enjoy" can only be the mission of someone who believes that those choices come without cost and that the only ethic that matters is the bottom line. But every consumer choice carries a cost, and the purpose of a real consumer advocate should be to make those costs - both moral and financial, to oneself and to others - perfectly clear. That, of course, is something that industries profiting from the untrammeled appetites of Americans cannot afford."

How silly of us. All this time we’ve been doing our shopping without considering the larger social issues that go far beyond just price and quality.

Of course, there seems to be a bit of a dispute about what a “consumer advocate” actually is. Personally, I’d prefer a consumer advocate to spend time fighting for my right as a consumer to make choices for myself, and not spend their time telling me what’s good and bad for me, urging the government to enforce their views of good and bad through law.

Verlyn Klinkenborg accuses the Center For Consumer Freedom of hypocrisy, but she seems to be the one engaging in Orwellian doublespeak. Her point seems to be that limiting the choices of individuals will protect consumer rights, but she doesn’t really want to come out and say it that way. And the hypocrisy she accuses the Center For Consumer Freedom of? They make statements such as, "These [activist and watchdog] groups are trying to prevent you from buying anything you want to buy," when they really should be saying “activists and watchdog groups are trying to stop us from selling you anything we want to sell you.” Of course, that’s not hypocrisy, nor is it anything remotely Orwellian. You see, in order to conduct a transaction, you need a buyer, and a seller, both of whom must be willing to engage in the transaction in the first place. Of course, maybe such simple logic is beyond the grasp of the complex minds at the New York Times. As usual, the only simplicity can be found in the axioms, regulation good, business bad, and consumers stupid (but shhhhh, don't say that last one too loudly.)


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