The Ideal of Informed Consumerism
A free enterprise system is predicated upon informed consent and the right of contract. To the extent that public policy or social custom may interfere with these foundational elements of the market, they should be corrected. A few examples will illustrate their importance.
Imagine that your child breaks his arm while playing with friends. He is in need of medical services, and so you take him to the nearby hospital. Doctors perform the work they think is necessary, you’re sent home with your child in a cast, and you later find out what the cost is. In what other industry do consumers tolerate having zero information about the price of services prior to agreeing to the work?
When you buy over the counter medicine, for example, you contrast and compare between available options. Perhaps you wish to pay a premium for a name brand, or you’re willing to choose a less ideal option to save money. You analyze the products based upon their price, their reputation, their ingredients, their claims of what they can help you with, and other factors. But the important thing is that you are provided all of the relevant data to make an informed choice.
When doctors and medical administrators uphold a system that hides prices from consumers, because of precedent or preference, individuals are unable to sufficiently compare and contrast and make an informed choice.
An example illustrating the interference involved in the right of contract is the state’s regulation of raw (unpasteurized) milk. As part of a 2007 change in Utah’s laws regarding how this milk may be sold, cow shares were prohibited. Cow shares operate much like Community Supported Agriculture, where people pay a farmer in advance for a dedicated portion of the crop. By paying up front, they own a certain share of the crop and are essentially hiring the farmer to provide them with produce. Similarly, a cow share system allows a person to hire a farmer to care for and feed a cow while receiving a dedicated portion of that cow’s milk.
Outlawing such shares is a violation of the right to contract. It is fully legal for a person to own their own cow and drink its milk without pasteurization. It is also legal for a person to hire somebody to come onto their property and take care of their cow for them, allowing them to more easily obtain raw milk without having to personally invest the time and effort into caring for that cow.
For some illogical reason, however, it is now illegal to pay somebody to care for a cow when that cow resides on the farmer’s property rather than your own. The individual right to contract renders such a law illegitimate, for a person has the inherent authority to own a cow, or part of a cow, and pay somebody else to care for it (whether alone or in agreement with others).
Opponents of further legalizing raw milk express concerns over people consuming the unpasteurized product and thereby becoming sick. Of course, it is not within the government’s proper role to impose laws that help to ensure that people do not get sick. If an adult wishes to consume something such as unpasteurized milk, then they should be able to do so. Personal responsibility entails that the individual will suffer the consequences of that action, whether good or bad. (Many people who have a lactose intolerance or other medical issues, or who simply prefer the taste, report that raw milk’s “consequences” are, for them, quite good.)
The government destroys informed consumerism when they prevent those consumers from making their own choices and reaping whatever consequences may come. A state that treats its citizens like adults must step out of the way and allow them to ingest what they please, provided nobody else’s rights are violated in the process.
Whether it is the state or societal status quo, any system that impedes information necessary to have informed consent and the ability to contract should be opposed and corrected.