Does the concept of “free markets” only apply to corporate special interests?

Free marketers want the government out of their businesses, including any efforts that  aids consumers in identifying product safety issues.

It is perhaps only natural to defend our children when they have been accused of misdeeds and violations of social mores.  It is an act of our nurturing ways that leads us to find fault with the accusers before seriously considering the possible defects with a child’s behavior under certain conditions.  So it’s not hard to extrapolate this attitude to the efforts of entrepreneurs who come under fire for their “product-children”, having taken the financial risk to create it while reaping the rewards of their success as it generates wealth for its creator and those who have supported their efforts.

Perception is reality, especially in business and it drives many to perpetuate that image even though there are warts below the surface that could send popular perceptions tailspinning back down a level of normalcy, or worse, unacceptability.  Much time and money is spent on legal experts and consultants to prevent exposing a weaknesses that can threaten a products future success.

Public celebrity hires lawyers and body guards to block any attempts by those who would destroy their brand.  Such efforts to conceal who they really are draws little sympathy from me when they allow themselves to get caught up in their fantasy world or the people who feel let down because that image they helped foster was crushed.  Emotions are fragile things but such people are victims only because they allowed themselves to participate in dreams that are disconnected from flesh and blood humanity.

This disconnect makes itself present in the corporate world of entrepreneurs and investors also who are willing to take short cuts with the safety of products they manufacture or the exaggerations they perpetrate about their commercial services.   The BP oil disaster was a tragic example of this.  Most businesses are honest with their customers even though such claims of honesty have to be deciphered in the small print legalese on product packages or contractual documents.

Consumers are exposed to bold positive messages weighted to encourage purchases rather than fully inform the buying public.  Consequences of any kind are only spelled out discreetly while positive images fill the screen or airwaves as a voice speaking at barely discernible rates of speed warn of caveats that come with the purchase of this commodity or the vague tiny disclaimers printed at the bottom of the TV screen.  These weak attempts at transparency were the results of consumer demands over many years of fighting corporations in an effort to gain honest information about product safety as opposed to the old system of caveat emptor – let the buyer beware.

These vague attempts at transparency usually get lost by most consumers in their eagerness to make a purchase but product manufacturers can guiltlessly claim that they did inform the public at the minimum requirement our representatives in government allowed for.  Shame on us for being so trustworthy but it is an attitude that thrives in a society that often has too much on its plate to read the small print.

So when another effort is made to create greater awareness for consumers and serve as a tool that enables them to make smarter choices, you would hope the honest merchants would be supportive of this.  This too may be presumptuous as we discover in a recent case where a consumer product manufacturer is suing a government agency that allows consumer complaints to be aired openly as a service for gaining product information.

A new consumer complaints database … launched in March by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, is a Web site where consumers can report and review incidents involving any of the thousands of products that the agency regulates — from candles to refrigerators.

[It faces] its first legal challenge this week when a company tried to block the federal agency that runs it from posting what the firm described as “baseless allegations” against its product.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in a federal district court in Maryland, seeks to prevent the CPSC from making public an incident that allegedly harmed a child. In addition, it wants to keep under seal any related documents and the identity of the company, describing it only as “Company Doe,” a maker and seller of consumer products.  SOURCE

The company who is suing the CSPC is fearful that inaccurate information on the site could unfairly threaten the company’s profits and mislead consumers.

“To require the Plaintiff to proceed without the protection of an order sealing the case would in effect render Plaintiff’s injuries impossible to redress,” the lawsuit said.

But Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety makes a valid observation here that some free marketers are perhaps unwilling to face, exposing their need to protect profits over people.

“It’s really a straw-man argument that industry erects. The primary motive is to keep the complaints from going public to prevent a recall and the strengthening of safety standards that will cost them money.”

Though there are legitimate concerns that the free marketers have about such a public service, it appears that most of their concerns about misinformation are unfounded as the flaws that many are fearful of seem to have been addressed by the CPSC.

  1. Complaints must be shared with the company, which has 10 days to respond.
  2. Anything materially inaccurate is to be removed from the complaint before it’s made public, and
  3. the company can post comments alongside the complaint.

A recent study by the Government Accountability Office has “also found that only about one-third of the complaints it received as of July contained the required information, and those that didn’t were not made public.”

Did the public know? Studies have revealed that baby bottles made with BPA can disturb the hormone balance and thus, may impair sexual development or fertility.

I can see both sides’ concerns to this issue but I have to side with the public’s view on this one.  We have heard repeatedly from the free marketers that government intervention is harmful to free markets and that the public will make choices that serves their self-interests, assuring us all that honest competition will weed out the bad elements in capitalism.  This notion becomes a sham in light of this case.

There are numerous examples where entrepreneurs spend hours of time and millions of dollars to prevent the public from having all the information they need to make informed choices.  One of the most offensive examples of this are the industries like Monsanto that supply food products that have genetically altered organisms (GMOs) in them.

Free marketers feel that printing information on such food products informing the consumer that they were processed with GMOs will negatively affect sells.  This seems to contradict the conviction of the bio-tech industries who make GMOs that assures the public that genetically altered food is safe.   If it really is safe then what’s the harm in making the public aware that their kid’s cereal is loaded with such ingredients?  GMOs have toxic characteristics to them that allow food commodities to grow rapidly and abundantly but pose health issues.   As a result, 30 countries around the world like Australia, the EU and Japan have banned their production because they are not considered proven safe.

The other argument we always hear from free marketers is that the government should not be making decisions for individuals.  Yet by allowing a platform to be used by individuals that could impact their choice, this one company at least feels that such information is more dangerous to their own well-being than the need to know by consumers.  It is the height of hypocrisy and a glaring example of how corporate special interests are often not in-line with the general public.

For those who would portray the protesters at these Occupy movements around the country as agitators who are out to destroy our capitalist way of life, it would seem that this case dismisses such baseless charges.  Pro-corporate, free-market devotees would point out only those within the OWS movements who are bizarrely dressed, disruptive and prone to engage in violent behavior while ignoring the vast number of honest people who are there merely to expose the failures of free-markets that ruin it as a whole.

Capitalism and its free-market values serves the best interest for any true republican form of government like ours but only when it its principles are honestly played out in any economy.  Rather than condemn those who ultimately strive to make free markets work fairly for all of us, such critics should be out in the streets with the OWS movement to eradicate this true threat to a capitalist principle.

3 responses to “Does the concept of “free markets” only apply to corporate special interests?

  1. Larry, as usual an excellent post……and I will postpone my thoughts until tomorrow when I will do a piece on consumerism….which will go close with your post…..keep up the good work.

  2. That damn cartoon of the cop and the dude in the car cracked me up. I didn’t get it at first, until I saw the “I’m Sexy” plate. LMAO.

    Great post.

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