Too much information

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Should we free market types support New York City’s law mandating the prominent posting of calorie counts? No, of course not. Yet the idea has traction. Here, for example, Ezra Klein deigns to give a serious response to Jacob Sullum’s recent column:

His article on the subject basically makes two points: The first is that consumers don’t want this, because if they did, then the market would already have provided it. As Sullum says, “If customers really were clamoring for conspicuous calorie counts, restaurants would provide them voluntarily.” That sentence competes for space with a poll showing 84 percent of Californians support caloric labeling requirements, and the basic reality the article is responding to: Democratically elected legislators who depend on the favor of voters for their jobs are the ones trying to pass a bill. Because they think it popular. The idea that public preferences only have legitimacy if they’re strong enough to be heard atop the clamor of the market is an exceedingly odd one.

Well, ok. But the notion that conducting a poll is a more reliable way to gauge consumer preferences is even odder. Answering a question in a poll is not like ordering lunch in a restaurant. Facing no trade-offs, there’s no reason not to give the publicly virtuous answer. Of course most people will say they support posting caloric information. Faced with the actual trade-offs of less menu space, higher costs for testing new products (more significant for small chains than for large), and the sometimes unpleasant reminder of how dense some food is, they might not actually prefer the one-size-fits-all rule of posting calorie counts prominently on the menu. If 84% of consumers were really demanding it, you would think that at least one restaurant chain would have filled this demand. The fact that none has done so voluntarily suggests that the mandate is excessive. (And what of the rights of business owners? They don’t merit concern, apparently.)

The alternative is not zero information. Chain restaurants are already responding to consumer demand for nutritional information without mandated displays. Many have been making it available on their websites or in literature within the restaurant, readily accessible for interested consumers. Some, like Subway, tout the healthiness of their menu and prominently advertise it. Others, like Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr., flaunt their excess. In between are hundreds of other restaurants that highlight their healthier offerings or entrées that comply with popular diets. There’s no compelling reason to think that the trend toward greater transparency won’t continue or that this multiplicity of approaches is somehow inferior to the single right way dictated by local government.

We can be sure, however, that mandated displays will overshoot the mark in at least some cases. Most people don’t want to know exactly what they’re eating all the time. As Sullum notes, “There’s a difference between informing people and nagging them.” Is that really such a difficult concept to grasp? Klein writes frequently about DC’s often decadent dining options. I wonder if he thinks his enjoyment of these restaurants would be increased if each item on the menu had its number of calories written next to it. Would his experience be enhanced by knowing that a nearly identical version of each dish had been previously sent to a lab for testing in a bomb calorimeter? Does he really want to be reminded of how many calories are in that pork belly?

I sure as hell don’t. Sometimes I just want to indulge. And while there are obvious reasons for limiting the calorie mandate to chains that can (presumably) afford it, there’s a definite classist tinge to these regulations. The New York City Council won’t be telling Mario Batali to put calorie counts on his menus anytime soon. But if you prefer to indulge with a Big Mac or Chipotle, you don’t get the privilege of doing so without being hit over the head with the nutritional numbers your keepers have decided you ought to be considering.

“It is, again, just information, for chains and customers to use as they wish,” Klein writes. “There’s something vaguely impressive about watching people prove themselves so anti-government that they cease to be pro-functioning markets, but it’s not a really good reason to scotch this plan.” Information is a market good too. There’s nothing inconsistent about libertarians arguing that the amount of information provided by our current markets, however imperfect they may be, is preferable to the distastefully paternalist excess mandated by these regulations.

Jacob Grier

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53 Responses to “Too much information”

  1. #1 |  Ryan Grim | 

    Okay, lemme play devil’s advocate here. Let’s assume that your right to throw a punch ends at my nose. Right? Well, the American people have taken a huge punch the last few years in the form of bigger, less healthy servings leading to unfathomable levels of obesity. Certainly individual choices have led to that obesity. But back to the punch analogy. Let’s say the person was just swinging his fist and somebody happened to walk into it. Hey, it was his choice to walk there. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to mandate that the person swinging his fist put up a sign for people walking by reading, ‘Warning. Fist swinging going on here.’ Or at least give some reasonable warning to passersby that danger lies ahead. Now, is a burger the same as a swinging fist? Hell, it might be worse.

  2. #2 |  Marty | 

    you must be punch drunk. these are consensual, mutual exchanges. nobody is forcing anyone to do anything. unless, of course, you count the ‘punch’ being thrown at consumers and businesses by the govt…

  3. #3 |  chance | 

    Since the information is already available from multiple websites, I don’t understand why the law didn’t just require the businesses to display the web address of a calorie listing site for common foods. Sure, it would not be libertarian but it wouldn’t require small businesses to spend money on testing.

  4. #4 |  Highway | 

    chance, because that doesn’t fulfill the basic goal of this kind of law:

    To shame people into eating certain things and away from eating other things, based on the preference of the food nannies.

    They think that unless the information is right there, mocking you in your face, you’re not going to make the ‘right’ choice.

  5. #5 |  Les | 

    Now, is a burger the same as a swinging fist?

    In order to purchase a burger, an individual must make a conscious decision to enter a private place of business and pay for the burger. If businesses were literally shoving burgers down people’s throats in public places, your analogy would be apt.

    So, the answer to your question is, “No. No, it’s not.”

  6. #6 |  Alex | 

    “Well, the American people have taken a huge punch the last few years in the form of bigger, less healthy servings leading to unfathomable levels of obesity.”

    I think the problem has more to do with lazy ass suburban lifestyle than food choices.

    Also, Highway’s point is dead-on. To me it’s the same as warnings on cigarette packages as if there’s people who are considering a square but want the Surgeon General’s opinion first. I wish they’d just admit their goal. I don’t agree with it, but it’s at least an honest arguement.

  7. #7 |  Matt Moore | 

    Well, the American people have taken a huge punch the last few years in the form of bigger, less healthy servings leading to unfathomable levels of obesity.

    That is the dumbest thing I’ve read in a long while. Unfathomable? Jesus. And if you don’t like how big the portions are, take some home.

  8. #8 |  Li | 

    The “market will provide” theory is often quite right. However, I have been of the opinion that the market will not provide if there are what I think of as perverse incentives involved. For instance, if you produce a therapy for a disease, there is an incentive not to produce a cure for that disease; you would be thus cutting off your profit stream. Similarly, if you have a cheap shortcut to making things taste good (artificial flavor, fat and salt) and you are forced to disclose your ingredients and their calorie count, then you will loose customers that are even remotely health conscious, and who isn’t? They may have to make things taste good through more expensive (spices) and laborious (slow cooking) methods, which happen to be healthier as well. Well boohoo, it might be better to stop viewing our sustenance as being production line crap, but rather as something worth investing a bit of time in. It is worth noting that a good many restaurants, including some popular chains (Subway, Panera) do list their calories and ingredients already, so the market actually is speaking to some extent.

    As for “expensive testing;” the cooks should damn well know what is going into the food, and what is left over and not served. This only requires a scale, and simple addition with a table of average ingredient calorie counts. Weighing and addition do not count as expensive testing in my book.

  9. #9 |  Alex | 

    “It is worth noting that a good many restaurants, including some popular chains (Subway, Panera) do list their calories and ingredients already, so the market actually is speaking to some extent.”

    So you’re saying some restaurants cater to calorie-conscious people and others cater to really hungy people that want a giant cheeseburger? That is indeed worth noting.

    “This only requires a scale, and simple addition with a table of average ingredient calorie counts.”

    Isn’t this proof that the law is asking restaurants to bomb their dishes? If a reasonable approximation from the ingredients is good enough, what’s wrong with the customer doing the same thing?

    “For instance, if you produce a therapy for a disease, there is an incentive not to produce a cure for that disease; you would be thus cutting off your profit stream.”

    This, like most lefty ideas, assumes that The Man is all-powerful and out to screw the little people. There may not be an incentive for you to produce a cure, but there is an incentive for the other 6 billion people to produce one. Just like there’s incentives for restaurants to advertise that their ingredients are higher quality than their competitors.

  10. #10 |  Li | 

    “Isn’t this proof that the law is asking restaurants to bomb their dishes? If a reasonable approximation from the ingredients is good enough, what’s wrong with the customer doing the same thing?”

    The customer knows the ingredients, and their proportions? Most restaurants are, understandably, not so eager to publish their exact recipes, which would be an unreasonable requirement. That is why this law is mandating that they do the addition for the customer.

    Further, I’ll say that if bombing the food is what the law is requiring it is kind of stupid, if only because that is an expensive solution compared with making an example dish and weighing the ingredients. But weighing and addition is really cheap, and fairly accurate. It is certainly not bomb calorimetry.

    I mean, perhaps they should be required to publish their exact recipes; I’d love to know how Big Boy makes that chocolate cake so moist. . . No, I think I prefer the mystery. And knowing that I need to skip lunch isn’t gonna make me skip cake. . every once in a while, at least.

  11. #11 |  Alex | 

    “The customer knows the ingredients, and their proportions? Most restaurants are, understandably, not so eager to publish their exact recipes, which would be an unreasonable requirement. That is why this law is mandating that they do the addition for the customer.”

    Note that the law is for chain restaurants. I would say that yes, customers know the recipes. How complicated is a 1/4lb slab of beef between two buns? The things that make for a unique recipe, herbs and spices, are almost entirely health neutral. Also, nobody that eats at chain restaurants (outside of the places you mentioned and the healthy parts of menus from TGIF, Chili’s, etc.) cares one bit about how many calories burgers and fried chicken have. As Jacob Sullum pointed out, poll questions are one thing, but customers sure aren’t putting their money where their mouth is.

  12. #12 |  Sam | 

    Sigh. There is no such thing as too much information in a free marketplace. Wouldn’t it save you time to acknowledge that you want a free marketplace for sellers and entrepreneurs, but not for consumers, because by restricting the available information, that’s precisely what you’re advocating.

  13. #13 |  Marty | 

    Sigh. How can it be a ‘free marketplace for sellers and entrepreneurs’ with government coercion? Who’s advocating for ‘restricting available information’?

    I see someone advocating against government coercion restricting how sellers and entrepreneurs run THEIR businesses and consumers having to pay the higher bill with THEIR money.

  14. #14 |  Sam | 

    Marty,

    Do you think food vendors in supermarkets are suffering because calorie counts are listed on the sides of the packages?

  15. #15 |  chance | 

    Good point about not needing expensive caloric tests to determine calories. Sure, it’s a matter of principle for a lot of you, but I can’t see this being a big burden on any business.

  16. #16 |  Vlad Drac | 

    There is also the inconvenient fact, increasingly supported by evidence, that the dietary “recommendations” pushed by the state’s agents are full of crap; i.e., fat doesn’t make you fat, it’s refined sugars and carbohydrates (followed closely by being a lazy sod).

  17. #17 |  Matt Moore | 

    There is no such thing as too much information in a free marketplace.

    That is precisely the problem. Are you going to require that all information be displayed at all times? Why are you drawing the line at calories? There is a literally an infinite amount of information about a sandwich available… we could trace the origin of the lettuce back to the farm, list the pesticides that were used on it. Perhaps the cow had a history of sinus infections, and I’d like to know that.

    Consumers will get the information that is important to them, the rest is just government coercion interfering in the marketplace.

  18. #18 |  Marty | 

    Sam-

    I’m fundamentally against the govt interfering in commerce. However, I can see where voluntary labeling can leave holes in the information- companies may be hesitant to list sodium content, etc. My stance on this is to tread carefully. If the govt wasn’t a short-term solution, get re-elected industry, I wouldn’t be so hesitant.

    Presented with concrete facts over decades, the govt still deems marijuana as a harmful product that justifies imprisonment and property confiscation of hundreds of thousands of citizens. The DEA, FBI, ONDCP, and billions of dollars have not acted in our best interests.

    Presented with a constitutional rule book and billions of dollars to research issues, we still invaded a country that was not a threat to us.

    There are politicians working to ban food vendors and restaurants from ‘their’ cities because ‘they’ feel the businesses aren’t in ‘their’ best interest. This isn’t in ‘our’ best interest to allow this. We need to foster an environment of innovation, not over-regulation.

    It’s easy for people to say things like, ‘ I can’t see this being a big burden on any business…’ But, usually they don’t realize this is ANOTHER hoop to jump through. None of the hoops are ‘a big burden’ by themselves, but we’re killing ourselves with all the little cuts.

  19. #19 |  MacK | 

    There are some good points, and some well…., but a couple things have not been said at all.

    First unless you are a total idiot you know that fast food chains (these are the effected businesses) sell high calorie food for your enjoyment and their profit.
    People that are calorie conscious do not go to McDonalds to check the menu, and see if they can have a Quarter Pounder with all the fixings.
    No one goes to Burger King for sliced apples, and water, but they do go for a Whopper, fries, and a soda.

    Second point is that when I go into a fast food chain, even though they have a menu above my head I really do not need to use it. It takes me all of 30 seconds to order my food, and then wait 2 to 3 minutes for them to hand it to me. Hence I get food fast, and that is why I went there.

    If someone in front of me broke out a calculator, and then started adding up several menu choices trying to figure out just what they could order, and still be within their calorie intake for the day, I would go off. I would have to bring out rude boy, and threaten enough of an ass kicking workout to offset any calorie intake they could make.

  20. #20 |  Marty | 

    ‘I would have to bring out rude boy, and threaten enough of an ass kicking workout to offset any calorie intake they could make.’

    debate is OVER. hehehe

  21. #21 |  Sam | 

    Marty,

    I am opposed to regressive government intervention in the marketplace, as in regulations that prevent competition, or prevent goods from coming to the marketplace. Consumers are more than capable of making their own decisions. But information is what gives the consumer the ability to make more nuanced decisions. Calorie counts allow for that nuance. Obviously, I am not doctrinaire about these things, but I genuinely believe that the more available information, the more likely it is that the consumer makes a decision that most reflects their wants and desires.

  22. #22 |  Marty | 

    Sam-

    ALL govt intervention is regressive. Who is going to enforce these regulations? They’ll create a new agency. THAT agency will need to find more things to enforce to justify their continued existence. It will continue to grow.

    Voluntary labeling is one of a food company’s many advertising options. People who find it important will patronize businesses that put out this extra effort. Subway was an example put forth by someone earlier. They built their business on healthy fare. People dieting or eating healthy will be drawn to this.

  23. #23 |  Li | 

    So now, the rub.

    “ALL govt intervention is regressive.”

    Eaten any fingers in your butter lately? Or perhaps, when last you did you used some “Peters Patented Cold Remedy and Laudanum” to wash away your grief?

    All things in moderation; too much regulation slows down the markets. Too little and you have maimed and dead workers, destructive remedies, and deadly fog. I don’t think any of us (save you) want to regress into Charles Dickens-ville.

  24. #24 |  Sydney Carton | 

    I live in New York City and was surprised to see calorie postings on the fast food menus when they were rolled out.

    I’ll tell you this, the law apparently has done nothing. I was in line at Wendy’s last night, and everyone except for me must’ve been over 300 pounds. All of them ordered Baconators, the highest calorie menu item.

    And I ordered it too. It’s a great luxury item for me occasionally. Yum!

  25. #25 |  Li | 

    Was Wendy’s on the verge of closing due to all of this onerous regulation?

  26. #26 |  Sam | 

    Yeah, government roads are also a serious threat to the marketplace. Being pro-market is one thing – opposing all government action is as silly as supporting all of it.

  27. #27 |  Marty | 

    ‘Treading lightly’ isn’t exactly ‘opposing all govt action’.

    Govt. programs ARE regressive. They raise taxes and become bloated. They take from the wealth of the people. They limit innovation and freedom.

    Sam, you and Li are being sensationalistic. ‘Fingers in peanut butter’? Please. ‘Govt roads are a threat to the marketplace’? Show me a govt agency that doesn’t exaggerate threats to the citizens to increase their tax revenues. Why would you buy into this propaganda that this is so necessary? I don’t think the benefit will outweigh the costs. Wendy’s may be able to weather (or even welcome) more regulations, but many small businesses have plenty to focus on without having to climb through another hoop.

  28. #28 |  Li | 

    The costs of posting calorie counts and ingredients are vanishingly minimal. How much of a benefit does there have to be?

  29. #29 |  Marty | 

    Is there a true benefit here? Or, are we creating more bureaucracy?

    Do you own a business? Have you lost a day’s work trying to navigate through the red tape that already exists?

  30. #30 |  Marty | 

    Li,

    Is there a true benefit here? Or, are we creating more bureaucracy?

    Do you own a business? Have you lost a day’s work trying to navigate through the red tape that already exists?

    Just curious- where do you stand on smoking bans in businesses?

  31. #31 |  Matt Moore | 

    The costs of posting calorie counts and ingredients are vanishingly minimal. How much of a benefit does there have to be?

    I suppose that we should just force people to do everything we want them to do, as long as it’s cheap.

  32. #32 |  Li | 

    You’re not proposing that adding up the ingredients and posting the counts is equivalent to telling a whole class of people to take a hike? Don’t make silly comparisons. As for new bureaucracy, how long would it take the inspector to see if the calories and ingredients are displayed on the menu? Five seconds?

    “I suppose that we should just force people to do everything we want them to do, as long as it’s cheap.”

    I think once I get the other side to resort to straw men like this, I can declare victory.

    Victory!

  33. #33 |  Matt Moore | 

    Declaring victory and winning are two very different things.

  34. #34 |  Sam | 

    I have nothing invested in Li’s arguments. Those are for you guys to do battle over.

    Government often stands in the way of entrepreneurship. Mandatory calorie counts is not an example of this, and claiming it to be deflects from the more serious government interference that genuinely prevents market function (drug wars, for example). In this case, the added information is beneficial to some consumers, who make decisions based upon the newly provided knowledge. Just because you don’t want or need calorie counts hardly means they’re without value.

  35. #35 |  Matt Moore | 

    In this case, the added information is beneficial to some consumers, who make decisions based upon the newly provided knowledge.

    This is not “newly provided knowledge,” especially not to the consumers who find it beneficial. Calorie counts have been provided by restaurants for years, and in the cases where the restaurants didn’t provide them have frequently been available through third parties.

    There’s nothing new here, except that competition created the calorie counts, and government mandate is uselessly requiring they be on the menu.

  36. #36 |  Lena | 

    honestly, if you want to do the whole calorie count thing, you will probably be able to find how many calories is in a certain item on google. it’s not that hard…

  37. #37 |  b-psycho | 

    I think the problem has more to do with lazy ass suburban lifestyle than food choices.

    Bingo.

    I remember back in my old hometown there was a restaurant with a theme of sorts, that of the old family farm. They specialized in huge portions — giant pork chops, generous steaks, breakfasts with everything. Back when people were going out to work the fields after an early breakfast (or heading to the factory in later years), eating like that worked just fine, but nowadays virtually no one works off that kind of calorie intake. We’re not getting fatter because we’ve suddenly taken up worse eating habits, we’re getting fatter because we spend more time sitting on our butts than we used to.

  38. #38 |  Marty | 

    ‘Just because you don’t want or need calorie counts hardly means they’re without value.’

    Let the business owners and consumers decide the value of the product/information.

    As Li points out, ‘…how long would it take the inspector to see if the calories and ingredients are displayed on the menu? Five seconds?’ Not if it’s a typical govt bureaucracy! We’ll now have caloric inspectors to go with the smoking inspectors and trans fat inspectors and health inspectors and fire inspectors and… it doesn’t stop. I’m sure most cities have several different departments to conduct these inspections and re-inspections. ‘Sir, someone marked on your caloric count information with a sharpie- you’re in violation of code 598.732. You must rectify this or we’ll have to fine you.’

    It’s only a small intrusion to the people who want this. To the rest of us, it’s more nonsense. Of course, the smoking bans are beneficial to all of us. Just ask the people who hoisted them onto us. Also, the trans fat issue is a no-brainer…

    If there’s real value in this service, restaurants will provide it. It shouldn’t be forced onto them. These are private businesses- you don’t have to patronize businesses that don’t fulfill your needs.

  39. #39 |  Marty | 

    ‘Declaring victory and winning are two very different things.’ So it seems, Matt!

    ‘President Bush symbolically closed a crucial chapter of his presidency last night by declaring “victory” in Iraq aboard an aircraft carrier returning combat forces to the United States.’

    ‘It’s OVER! Success! We Win!

    So was the composite declaration of a recent gathering of former United States drug czars on June 17, which marked the 35th anniversary of the war’s beginning in 1971 with the appointment of Dr. Jerome H. Jaffe, a psychiatrist, as the first White House drug czar.’

    ‘After five long years, the United States has finally secured victory in the War on Terror, George W. Bush declared today.’

    ‘Nixon declared “victory with honor” for Vietnam’

  40. #40 |  Elroy | 

    I will not pay one bit of attention to the calorie count. When I go to a burger place, I want a nice big fat greasy cheeseburger and fries and I don’t give a damn what the calorie count is. Now I have enough self control that I don’t eat this everyday and I maintain my weight just fine. What are we doing to our kids making them worry about this crap every waking minute of their lives? The next generation is going to be the most neurotic worrying bunch ever because we are going to drive them nuts before they become adults. The WWII generation were a bunch of cigarette smoking, real butter eating, cooking with lard, eggs for breakfast people who probably were better adjusted than most of us despite having REAL problems to worry about.

  41. #41 |  Sam | 

    Free markets thrive on information. When that information is withheld, the marketplace’s efficiency suffers. Businesses will not ever voluntarily give out information which harms their own bottom line. Is this acceptable?

  42. #42 |  Marty | 

    I thought free markets thrived on being free. If consumers have a need, the market fills it. Can you give any good examples of govt coercion helping ‘the marketplace’s efficiency’.

    ‘Businesses will not ever voluntarily give out information which harms their own bottom line.’ is a pretty broad statement. Can you back this up? Concrete examples of govts over-regulation stifling the market are easy to find.

  43. #43 |  Matt Moore | 

    Businesses will not ever voluntarily give out information which harms their own bottom line.

    And yet they’ve been voluntarily giving out calorie information for years.

  44. #44 |  Sam | 

    So cigarette companies were forthcoming about the fact that their product was linked to cancer, voluntarily?

  45. #45 |  Les | 

    So cigarette companies were forthcoming about the fact that their product was linked to cancer, voluntarily?

    They didn’t need to be. Everybody and their doctor knew it already. They weren’t allowed to lie in their advertisements and say cigarettes were safe or healthy, and I think that’s about all the protection consumers need or deserve from their government in terms of product information.

  46. #46 |  Matt Moore | 

    So cigarette companies were forthcoming about the fact that their product was linked to cancer, voluntarily?

    That’s an interesting example you bring up, since for 42 years tobacco companies used a government approved test to provide tar levels on packs of light cigarettes. Oops, that data was meaningless.

    More information (especially government approved information) is not always better… it can be used as noise to distract consumers from the really important things.

    I can’t wait to see the tactics that restaurants use to twist your precious calorie counts into making people buy more stuff. Wendy’s could offer an 1100 calorie double baconator, for instance, so that the people eating the 800 calorie baconator will feel more virtuous. Whatever the outcome, I’ll bet money that none of this junk makes us skinnier.

  47. #47 |  markm | 

    “As for “expensive testing;” the cooks should damn well know what is going into the food, and what is left over and not served.”

    Sure, but that doesn’t give you an accurate calorie count. For example, a good part of the calories in the raw hamburger are drained off the grill into a grease bucket when it’s served. You could try to measure how much grease 100 hamburgers make, and roughly determine the composition of that grease, and calculate calories from that, but it’s as complex as using a calorimeter. The fries gain calories from absorbing frying oil – but that’s not the only reason oil disappears from the fryer.

    If instead of highly processed foods like McDonald’s burgers and fries, you consider anything that might actually be healthy, it’s even worse. Food comes from living organisms, and living organisms are never identical. Every apple has a different ripeness and percentage of sugar, as well as weight. I can find the average calories, vitamin C content, etc., for a particular breed and grade of apple, and I could calculate these numbers for a Sara Lee apple pie made by chopping thousands of apples together, but I can’t tell you much about the particular apple you are holding in your hand. Likewise, every slice of meat will have a different fat content; a processor big enough to supply McDonald’s is big enough to mix up tons of fatty meat, tons of lean meat, measure the fat content and produce consistent burgers, but smaller, less environmentally disastrous butchers can’t do that.

    Result: large chain restaurants with fixed menus and homogenized ingredients can comply, but they’ll pass the cost on to consumers, and even they will have to hold up releasing new recipes for testing, and then for printing new information cards. Non-chain restaurants, small chains, and anyplace that serves food that wasn’t processed in a huge factory cannot comply with much precision. Nor can any smaller chain or individual restaurant keep reprinting their menus for every time they vary a recipe because some ingredients are not available at a reasonable price.

    So you’ll exempt small chains, non-chains, fruits, etc.? Then you wind up with thousands of pages of regulations, and a large class of bureaucrats trying to interpret them – or perhaps, looking for interpretations that are favorable or unfavorable depending on how good the restauranter is at sucking up. In many jurisdictions, that already describes the way health inspections really work, this just piles on another, far less necessary, layer of bureaucracy to harass small businesses.

  48. #48 |  Sam | 

    Cigarettes have never been advertised as being healthy? Really?

    Because I’d swear a simple search brings up reams of evidence proving this to be incorrect. But fine, maybe cigarettes have always come with warnings.

    How about the automobile industry’s long-standing refusal to acknowledge their products dangerous designs?

    Or the pharmaceutical industry’s knowledge of bad outcomes from particular medications which have been routinely covered up?

    Do you guys genuinely have so much religious faith in business to believe that they’ll play the game more fairly than the government?

  49. #49 |  Matt Moore | 

    Cigarettes have never been advertised as being healthy? Really?

    That was fraud, and they should be prosecuted. Not putting calories on the board isn’t fraud. Also, those lies were abetted by government regulations (see my previous post, the one you didn’t respond to yet, above).

    Also, it was common knowledge for centuries that smoking was unhealthy. King James (the one with the Bible) said in 1604 that smoking was, “a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.”

    Do you guys genuinely have so much religious faith in business to believe that they’ll play the game more fairly than the government?

    A. Do you have “so much religious faith” in calorie numbers that you actually think that printing them in one more place will make any difference? Cause it won’t.

    B. One of your examples (cars) is so vague I have no idea what you’re talking about. If you’re going to try to hold up Ralph Nader as a hero of consumer rights advocacy, I’m not impressed.

    C. Your other two examples (cigarettes and pharma) involve industries that have used the government regulations to shield themselves from liability. If tobacco hadn’t had the government stamp of approval for advertisements about low tar, how many people wouldn’t have picked up smoking, thinking it was now “safer?” If big pharma couldn’t potentially hide behind FDA approval, how many fewer unsafe drugs would they produce? Thanks to over-reaching government nannies, we’ll probably never know.

  50. #50 |  Marty | 

    ‘Do you guys genuinely have so much religious faith in business to believe that they’ll play the game more fairly than the government?’

    Governments don’t play fair. Markets correct themselves- governments rarely admit fault and force views of a few on the populace.

    We should allow consenting adults to make their own decisions. If someone gets defrauded, the judicial system should handle it.

  51. #51 |  Brief Essays With Pictures » Blog Archive » Markets Suffer From Information Overload…Wait, What? | 

    […] an idiot, I waded waist deep into a debate at The Agitator’s website about information in the marketplace. The specifics of the debate […]

  52. #52 |  Les | 

    Cigarettes have never been advertised as being healthy? Really?

    I didn’t say that, but I’m sorry I wasn’t clearer. After 1960, they stopped advertising themselves as healthy because they knew everyone knew it wasn’t true by then. And in the decades to come it was so commonly known that they knew they’d be prosecuted if they did so.

  53. #53 |  Calorie counts come to Oregon - Crispy on the Outside | 

    […] the information is often available already, even if not prominently posted on the menu. As I wrote for The Agitator in August: The alternative is not zero information. Chain restaurants are already responding to […]

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