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Author Topic: Libertarians and consumer protection  (Read 4160 times)

frontalot

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Libertarians and consumer protection
« on: April 21, 2004, 09:16:58 pm »

I am not a Libertarian, nor do I adhere to any single political movement/party. I do, however, agree with many of the Libertarian principles regarding minimal government and laws and free trade. My problem with the FSP and the Libertarian philosophy is regarding consumer protection. Libertarians argue that in a free market consumers will always demand what suits them and a proper supply will subsequently follow.

For example, I have seen Libertarians argue against "clean water" laws because they consider it government intervention. Instead, these people argue that market forces will provide consumers with the clean water they desire. As an economist I have a problem with this belief. Yes, in a truly free market consumers will get their clean water, provided it doesn't spoil the commons. However, it is practically impossible to have a truly free market due to lack of information and the problem of the commons. As such, producers will not provide clean water but rather water which provides the highest level of shareholder wealth.

Based on my studies of economics, I am a supporter of consumer protection laws. Laws protecting our common natural resources are needed to protect the consumer. This doesn't mean a producer cannot remove and sell the granite on their private property. It does mean producers cannot pollute the water table and then sell the polluted water. However, I would still agree some US consumer protection laws, in their current incarnation, are unncessary if not downright wrong. Basically, one of my main reservations to supporting the FSP is the issue of consumer protection laws. Any thoughts?
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Tracy Saboe

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Re:Libertarians and consumer protection
« Reply #1 on: April 22, 2004, 12:21:03 am »

You make too invalid assumptions.

1) That water is a common property. It's not. It can be owned privately. It has been off and on since the migration of settlers to the western parts of the US.  When governments allow then and don't hijack the property rights the market has developed.

2) That these said private property owners wouldn't defend those property rights.  If water was actually owned, the owners would have an incentive to keep it clean and what not -- if they don't, they won't have buyers and market competitors would beat them.

3) That private sanatation methods, aren't cheeper and more efficient then the governments.  Do you realize how many people pay for clean water twice? Once with their taxes, and then again with water sanitation systems, Britta, Bottled water, etc. Think of how the market could purify water if all that money was freed up and they didn't need to compete with a government that did it for "free."

Tracy
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JasonPSorens

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Re:Libertarians and consumer protection
« Reply #2 on: April 22, 2004, 08:28:28 am »

What sorts of consumer protection laws are we really examining?  Laws against fraud seem worthwhile.  Reason magazine recently did an analysis of the FDA and found that a great deal of fraud in food and medicine marketing had existed prior to the founding of the FDA.  Yet the FDA has also stopped the introduction of life-saving drugs.  Maybe the best solution is to make FDA compliance voluntary and public, even if that's not quite the "pure" solution of simply abolishing the FDA.
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"Educate your children, educate yourselves, in the love for the freedom of others, for only in this way will your own freedom not be a gratuitous gift from fate. You will be aware of its worth and will have the courage to defend it." --Joaquim Nabuco (1883), Abolitionism

atr

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Re:Libertarians and consumer protection
« Reply #3 on: April 22, 2004, 08:53:11 am »

However, it is practically impossible to have a truly free market due to lack of information and the problem of the commons.

It seems to be that information is a part of the free market. I.e. Consumers place a value on information when making a purchase. So, a consumer might pay more for water from a company that provides private certification of its water cleanliness, or more for a candy bar that lists its ingredients on the wrapper.

If consumers choose to purchase water without any disclosure of the water contents, or without testing it after purchase, certainly they are taking a risk, but the point is to allow consumers to decide for themselves what risks to take.
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Mike Lorrey

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Re:Libertarians and consumer protection
« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2004, 12:04:07 pm »

Actually, Frontalot, the history of public vs private consumer protection exposes that government mandated standards are very often half measures that favor industry, or totally overboard restrictions that create barriers to protect a competetive industry.

Conversely, groups like Underwriters Laboratories, Consumer Reports, and other groups set standards of product quality and performance that are based on scientific data. Such groups cannot be manipulated by Congressmen, Senators, or Presidents in the pay of others, and have an awesome record of assuring quality products, so much so that many regulations about products simply state that such and so product must be UL tested.

Consumers are responsible for making informed decisions. Learning to look for marks of quality and performance issued by third parties testing to independent standards is the best result, and it doesn't cost taxpayers money to do so.
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Justin

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Re:Libertarians and consumer protection
« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2004, 07:41:59 pm »

I do, however, agree with many of the Libertarian principles regarding minimal government and laws and free trade.

This is the main problem.  First, it's singular, "principle."  Second, you can't1 shouldn't pick and choose attributes of contradictory principles; in this case, freedom and coercion.


1 one can try, but to do so would be doublethink.
« Last Edit: April 22, 2004, 07:56:05 pm by Justin »
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frontalot

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Re:Libertarians and consumer protection
« Reply #6 on: April 23, 2004, 02:35:52 pm »

Thanks everyone for your comments. I'm sorry if I wasn't very clear in my original post, so allow me to clarify. I am interested in the FSP because even though I am not a Libertarian, I believe it is leagues better than the current situation. However, I won't participate in the FSP if one of the primary goals is elimination of all consumer protection laws. What are the FSP goals in relation to consumer protection laws?
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Mike Lorrey

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Re:Libertarians and consumer protection
« Reply #7 on: April 23, 2004, 03:10:37 pm »

Thanks everyone for your comments. I'm sorry if I wasn't very clear in my original post, so allow me to clarify. I am interested in the FSP because even though I am not a Libertarian, I believe it is leagues better than the current situation. However, I won't participate in the FSP if one of the primary goals is elimination of all consumer protection laws. What are the FSP goals in relation to consumer protection laws?

Limit them to protecting against fraud, as our SOI says. Beyond that, the rule is caveat emptor. Consumers need to observe marks of quality from independent product testing organizations, consumer reporting groups, etc.
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atr

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Re:Libertarians and consumer protection
« Reply #8 on: April 23, 2004, 03:47:38 pm »

However, I won't participate in the FSP if one of the primary goals is elimination of all consumer protection laws. What are the FSP goals in relation to consumer protection laws?

The FSP does not have any specific political goals. FSP Members have diverse political goals.

Typically, libertarians believe in only one type of consumer protection--laws against fraud. Perhaps if you discuss this issue with us, we can convince you that that's the only just form of consumer protection :).
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atr

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Re:Libertarians and consumer protection
« Reply #9 on: April 23, 2004, 04:07:36 pm »

I wanted to add another way to think about the FSP and consumer protection laws. I don't know exactly what kinds of consumer protection laws you support, but I encourage you to consider whether they are compatible with the FSP statement of intent:

I hereby state my solemn intent to move to the state of New Hampshire. Once there, I will exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of civil government is the protection of life, liberty, and property.


If you can commit to the SOI, then please join. On the other hand, if you believe that the consumer protection laws you support do not qualify as the protection of life, liberty, or property, then obviously you should not make this commitment.
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Mike Lorrey

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Re:Libertarians and consumer protection
« Reply #10 on: April 24, 2004, 05:11:59 pm »

"Frontalot" appears to be rapper MC Frontalot, a computer 'nerdcore' rapper self described as "the world's 579th greatest rapper", who appears to have a mutual admiration thing going with Noam Chomsky.

AKA Merrill Cyrus Frontburn
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Justin

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Re:Libertarians and consumer protection
« Reply #11 on: April 25, 2004, 12:17:08 am »

This guy is so filled with concern for his fellow human beings that when discussing the Islamic religious police (you know, the guys who do bad things to women that go outside without a male relative escort, etc.) said, "I don't see how the enforcement of Islamic law is such a big deal."

Yup, this one's a keeper.   ::)
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Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. - Diderot
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