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RE: Manufacturer's Profits at Buyer's Expense

To: "Max Heim" <>, "MG List" <>
Subject: RE: Manufacturer's Profits at Buyer's Expense
From: "Jay Call" <>
Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2002 17:01:37 -0800

        I'm looking at it through the prism of "the government can't (and I mean
"can't," not "shouldn't," or "may not") tell ANY of us what's best for each
of us," and even if it could, it's unnecessary, and too expensive.  What's
required is merely information, not regulation.  To follow-through with your
example, where sufficient information is available to people about the
presence of unhealthy additives in food products -- whether rat excrement,
chalk, or whatever -- if they choose to continue to consume such products
(because of price, "peer pressure," "snobbery" -- or because they don't
believe the "investigative journalists and reformers") or whatever -- then
neither the government nor any of the rest of us should coerce some other
choice that "we" think is correct.  Whether you agree with this principle or
not, your "moral" (i.e., that what's in the best interest of "society"
doesn't flow from the pursuit of "self-interest") doesn't follow from the
example.  There are certainly arguments to be made that when individuals
collectively pursue goals, these may conflict with certain goals of
individuals who are members of that group -- which is why folks like me
argue that in a society which values the individual as much or as more than
any "collective," one should limit collectively pursued goals to those which
cannot possibly be achieved by any other means.

        A more appropriate example might be the more purely regulatory issue of
requiring people to wear helmets when riding motorcycles.  The usual
justification -- which in our state, by the way, turned out to have been
based on wholly manufactured statistics -- is that public health care costs
will be lower because there will be fewer head injuries.  Ignoring for the
moment the high transactional costs of such an approach, given the tiny
proportion of costs that result from motorcycle-accident head injuries
relative to all other healthcare costs, the fundamental cure for the problem
is to fund healthcare through voluntary, rather than government-mandated,
publicly funded programs.

        Or, in the SUV example that you just offered:  maybe the solution is NOT
"leveling the playing field" by applying the same restrictive regulations to
both passenger cars and SUV's (assuming, as I do not, that there is a good
reason for doing so); perhaps the solution is to minimize the regulation of
both.  Government regulation ALWAYS distorts the market -- though one can
reasonably argue that some distortion is a cost we should be willing to pay
for the benefits derived from the distortion -- and my only point is that we
should be willing to examine ALL reasonable alternatives to a problem,
without assuming that our government knows what is best for us.

        I'm not sure where the "corporate socialism" business comes in.  I, for
one, would just like to keep more of what I earn -- rather than giving it to
government regulators to make the world safe for me, or to diary farmers in
Vermont not to produce milk, or to airline companies who will otherwise go
broke, or . . . but you get the idea.

        At any rate, it's been an interesting exchange, and it's always good to 
a sense of others' perspectives.

Jay Call

>On December 06, 2002 3:54 PM, Max Heim wrote:

You are looking at it through the prism of "the government can't tell me
what's best for me". True as far as it goes, but to take an example from
early in the last century: most mass-produced bakery products contained
significant quantities of chalk and sawdust (not to mention rat excrement
and hair). Why? Not because people chose to consume these substances, but
because people were led to believe that "whiter" bread was better
(marketing, peer pressure, snobbery, whatever), and the white bread that was
available at an affordable price for the masses was deliberately adulterated
with these items by the manufacturers, in order to sell it at a more
attractive price, and thereby increase sales. Despite publicity by
investigative journalists and reformers, this practice continued until the
establishment of federal food purity laws, and consequent enforcement.

The moral of this story is, you cannot count on individuals acting in their
own self-interest, to act in the best interests of society. This seems like
an obvious statement, but it is remarkable how much current political
thought is predicated on the false contrary assumption.

To expand the analogy, I am not advocating that the government "mandate"
whole-wheat bread; I am merely suggesting that it is their right and proper
role to ban unhealthy and contaminated bread.

In the case of SUVs, my contention is that the government is in the position
of enforcing purity laws on, say, sliced bread (passenger cars), but not
enforcing the same rules for cakes and donuts (SUVs), thus making donuts, in
comparison, more financially attractive to consumers, and more profitable to
the bakers -- both to the detriment of society at large.

I fail to see this as an issue of "personal freedom", although I am aware
that the apologists for "free market capitalism" (I use quotes, since what
they are really defending is a sort of corporate socialism) frequently try
to frame it as such.

on 12/6/02 3:00 PM, Jay Call at wrote:

> Pardon me Max, but isn't it true that among the virtues of a free society
> that people get to decide for themselves what it is they "need"?  It seems
> to me far better to let people decide for themselves what they "need,"
> because, after all, am I not in the best position to know what I "need"?
> What do I (or you, or anyone else) require a government regulator to tell
> what is in my best interest?
> Thanks,
> Jay Call

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