Friday, January 16, 2009

Who is the Helpless One?

Tim Hartford reminds us:
There is an anti-consumer movement with a ready answer: We're helpless, enthralled by advertisers and hooked on shopping.
This reminds me of an undergraduate professor I had who was particularly enthralled with J.K. Galbraith, and would often have us watch videos like "Affluenza."

Even though I had a much greater predisposition to this idea at that time, I saw the hole in the argument that we were somehow under the mind control of advertisers and that Nike might be colonizing our brains with commercials.

The clearest flaw in the argument is that the propensity to advertise is directly dependent on the availability of choice to the consumer. That is, the more choices you have at your disposal, the more advertising you get. It is the simple fact that I can choose among any variety of shoe companies to buy my sneakers that causes abundant advertising from Nike. The local electric company has considerably fewer ads because I have no choice of provider.

The anti-consumer groups that cry about our "helplessness" have it exactly backwards: Firms at the mercy of our whims and fancies are compelled to advertise so extensively.

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