Response to ‘Unbridled capitalism poses the greatest risk for American health’
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, February 7, 2019
Given this day and age, I was not surprised to come across the headline “Unbridled capitalism poses the greatest risk for American health”, but instead of dismissing it as a popular millennial right-hook to the free market, I opted to give the author, Drew Lischke, a chance to change my mind. Instead, Drew reinforced what I already knew: Americans (young Americans especially) have a disillusioned view of personal responsibility.
Drew begins by lamenting the fact that electronic cigarette maker JUUL has swept teens across America in big tobacco’s latest “unchecked” push to market an alternative to cigarettes. What Drew failed to realize (and with a simple Google search could have realized) is that the regulations in place to prevent these kinds of things are in fact working. It was not the FBI, as Drew wrote, that raided JUUL’s headquarters in an effort to uncover their marketing scheme. It was in fact the Food and Drug Administration, the regulatory body whose very purpose it is to stop these things from happening, that intervened. The FDA subsequently issued warning letters and fines to over 1,300 retailers who illegally sold JUULs to minors. It also asked JUUL and other companies to submit detailed plans on how to best address teenage use. In other words, the FDA punished the retailers who broke the law, and asked JUUL to be more prudent in its marketing. Essentially, the regulations that are in place are working as designed.
Now, Drew may have made a good point (despite his factual blunder) about JUUL and other e-cigarette companies and their wanting to prey on teens, but he completely lost me when he started playing whack-a-mole with McDonald’s and other fast food companies. I found it humorous that he, when bashing their marketing techniques, wrote, “We know how advertising works — it attempts to manipulate the choice of consumers.” Hm. So, if we know how something works, then why would we allow that something to manipulate us? The answer is that Drew is playing the attractive American blame game and using a popular target, namely “unbridled capitalism,” as the straw man responsible for all of our problems. Advertisements and big corporations do not force people to drive to McDonald’s and order a quarter-pounder with cheese, just as forks and knives do not make people obese. The only thing responsible for that are the personal choices of American consumers. I am not suggesting that targeted advertising does not have any effect on consumers choices. It does, as Drew points out. But so what? The Federal Trade Commission has a whole host of regulations on advertising that prevent big companies from lying to you about their product. As long as companies stay within those boundaries, they can say or advertise whatever they want — because freedom.
Drew wants the government to “step up its game before it’s too late.” To what end? Force McDonald’s not to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing? Force them to advertise salads instead of Big Macs? Set-up DUI-like checkpoints at every McDonald’s drive-thru to warn consumers about the health effects of the food they are about to consume? Drew doesn’t suggest any concrete regulation that would actually make a difference, probably because Uncle Sam cannot force anyone to not eat a Big Mac, or smoke a cigarette, or buy a diesel truck or go to the gym. Those decisions are for you, and you only to make.
I am all for reasonable regulations and protections for consumers, but Drew didn’t posit any, and to be quite honest, many of them already exist. Perhaps they could be better enforced, but Drew did not make that argument. Instead, he opted to broadly lambaste capitalism and not place any blame on the personal choices of American consumers. America: we are not robots. Capitalism cannot “decide for itself whether to be a harbinger of healthy habits or of deadly vices,” as Drew writes. We ought to take a page out of Ronald Reagan’s book when he said: “It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”
Only one person can do that: you.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.