In the information economy, sellers can distort the truth about their products, and online intermediaries have incentives to skew the facts they provide to buyers. Mark Patterson discusses ways data can be manipulated for competitive advantage and consumer exploitation, and shows how courts can apply antitrust law to address these problems.
A definitive history of consumer activism, Buying Power traces the lineage of this political tradition back to our nation’s founding, revealing that Americans used purchasing power to support causes and punish enemies long before the word boycott even entered our lexicon. Taking the Boston Tea Party as his starting point, Lawrence Glickman argues that the rejection of British imports by revolutionary patriots inaugurated a continuous series of consumer boycotts, campaigns for safe and ethical consumption, and efforts to make goods more broadly accessible. He explores abolitionist-led efforts to eschew slave-made goods, African American consumer campaigns against Jim Crow, a 1930s refusal of silk from fascist Japan, and emerging contemporary movements like slow food. Uncovering previously unknown episodes and analyzing famous events from a fresh perspective, Glickman illuminates moments when consumer activism intersected with political and civil rights movements. He also sheds new light on activists’ relationship with the consumer movement, which gave rise to lobbies like the National Consumers League and Consumers Union as well as ill-fated legislation to create a federal Consumer Protection Agency.
Although spending on cybersecurity continues to grow, companies, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations are still being breached, and sensitive personal, financial, and health information is still being compromised. This report sets out the results of a study of consumer attitudes toward data breaches, notifications that a breach has occurred, and company responses to such events.
As Elizabeth Warren memorably wrote, “It is impossible to buy a toaster that has a one-in-five chance of bursting into flames and burning down your house. But it is possible to refinance an existing home with a mortgage that has the same one-in-five chance of putting the family out on the street.” More than a century after the government embraced credit to fuel the American economy, consumer financial protections in the increasingly complex financial system still place the onus on individuals to sift through fine print for assurance that they are not vulnerable to predatory lending and other pitfalls of consumer financing and growing debt.
In Democracy Declined, Mallory E. SoRelle argues that the failure of federal policy makers to curb risky practices can be explained by the evolution of consumer finance policies aimed at encouraging easy credit in part by foregoing more stringent regulation. Furthermore, SoRelle explains how angry borrowers’ experiences with these policies teach them to focus their attention primarily on banks and lenders instead of demanding that lawmakers address predatory behavior. As a result, advocacy groups have been mostly unsuccessful in mobilizing borrowers in support of stronger consumer financial protections. The absence of safeguards on consumer financing is particularly dangerous because the consequences extend well beyond harm to individuals—they threaten the stability of entire economies. SoRelle identifies pathways to mitigate these potentially disastrous consequences through greater public participation.
Foodborne illness is a big problem. Wash those chicken breasts, and you’re likely to spread Salmonella to your countertops, kitchen towels, and other foods nearby. Even salad greens can become biohazards when toxic strains of E. coli inhabit the water used to irrigate crops. All told, contaminated food causes 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths each year in the United States.
With Outbreak, Timothy D. Lytton provides an up-to-date history and analysis of the US food safety system. He pays particular attention to important but frequently overlooked elements of the system, including private audits and liability insurance.
Lytton chronicles efforts dating back to the 1800s to combat widespread contamination by pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella that have become frighteningly familiar to consumers. Over time, deadly foodborne illness outbreaks caused by infected milk, poison hamburgers, and tainted spinach have spurred steady scientific and technological advances in food safety. Nevertheless, problems persist. Inadequate agency budgets restrict the reach of government regulation. Pressure from consumers to keep prices down constrains industry investments in safety. The limits of scientific knowledge leave experts unable to assess policies’ effectiveness and whether measures designed to reduce contamination have actually improved public health. Outbreak offers practical reforms that will strengthen the food safety system’s capacity to learn from its mistakes and identify cost-effective food safety efforts capable of producing measurable public health benefits.
Despite the attention to the problem of protecting the health care interests of Americans, there is little consensus on what should be done politically or otherwise to address this problem. In Protecting American Health Care Consumers Eleanor DeArman Kinney, a nationally regarded expert on health policy and law, tackles the serious and ongoing debate among state and federal policymakers, health care providers, third-party payers, and consumers about how to provide procedural justice to patients in the present health care climate. To promote and ensure consumer protection in an increasingly adversarial and complicated health-care culture, Kinney first analyzes the procedures by which consumer concerns are presently discerned and resolved and then explains why these systems are unsatisfactory. She also discusses problematic procedures for making coverage policy and quality standards and proposes reforms in a variety of processes that would enable all consumers, including the uninsured, to influence key policies and standards and also to raise concerns and obtain appropriate remedies. As the first comprehensive treatment of administrative procedures in American health plans and other such institutions, Protecting American Health Care Consumers will be welcomed by state and federal policymakers, managed care executives, and lawyers charged with designing and implementing protections for consumers in public and private health plans.
Modern transparency dates to the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s—well before the Internet. Michael Schudson shows how the “right to know” has defined a new era for democracy—less focus on parties and elections, more pluralism and more players, year-round monitoring of government, and a blurring line between politics and society, public and private.
Strength in Numbers
Gunnar Trumbull Harvard University Press, 2012 Library of Congress HC79.C63T78 2012 | Dewey Decimal 381.34
Consumers feel powerless in the face of big industry, and the dominant view of economic regulators agrees with them. Trumbull argues that this represents a misreading of the historical record and the core logic of interest representation. Weak interests, he reveals, quite often emerge the victors in policy battles, by forging unlikely alliances.