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Fairness formula: free markets, rule of law, and consumer choice

In light of the Black Lives Matter protests, a statue of former UK Prime Minister Robert Peel, who, among other things, abolished the disastrous Corn Laws in 1846, has been defaced with socialist graffiti. As someone coming from a post-communist country who came to recognise and appreciate the role of free markets in bringing about prosperity, I was heartbroken. 

Communism, or socialism as its lower and more feasible version, has come to personify the Garden of Eden, the idealist dream of liberté, égalité, fraternité. In modern European history, socialism, as we know it today, started off as an outraged response to the ever-growing wealth gap between the rich and the poor. The complete lack of economic freedom in the form of excessive taxation and irresponsible public expenditure was at the heart of the French revolution. The same story then played out in Russia and resulted in the establishment of the USSR. The social order leading up to these and many similar uprisings was extremely unfair, but the cure was free markets, rule of law, and peace, not socialism, cronyism, and tyranny. 

This lesson of history is especially important and is usually overlooked. Free markets, and in particular free trade, have been key to reducing poverty all across the world. The right to choose that comes with economic freedom has led to individual empowerment in various other areas of life. While socialists’ promise of fairness and equality results in one type of consumer goods available on the shelves, long queues, one haircut for all, one school uniform, and extremely low level of innovation, capitalism celebrates the plentifulness of choices, individuality, and entrepreneurship. And yet free markets are increasingly blamed for all the evils in the world: wealth gap, gender inequality, and even climate change. 

It would be a mistake to claim that free markets are a perfect solution to all problems in the world, but it’s the best we have. If left unchecked and without proper incentives, capitalism can really become a brutal race in which those who obtained the most wealth – sometimes not by legal means – win. However, combined with institutional integrity, and the rule of law, free-market capitalism isn’t only the fairest solution based on merit and choice, it’s also the most desirable one. 

Let’s imagine, as in the famous Rawls’s experiment, that we know nothing about our individual identity meaning that we don’t know what gender we have, whether we are straight or gay, what is our skin colour, and whether we are rich or poor. For the experiment to work, we have to imagine that all of the people are in this position and we have to establish a new social contract. What would we want it to be?

Regardless of who we turn out to be, we would all end up as consumers and would want to enjoy the freedom to choose from the widest array of products. We would prefer them cheap – so taxes have to be low – and would like to get all the information we can about those products, and of course more innovation. When considering our position in the world under the veil of ignorance, we would likely also think about our lifestyle. Would we all want to agree to the state of things when we are told what to consume, or when someone intervenes into our voluntary exchange with other people? Likely not, unless we think about it from the standpoint of a government bureaucrat who might be driven by noble motives but still wants to control our lives. The majority of people standing behind the veil of ignorance wouldn’t buy into that anyway. 

In this experiment, I’m focusing on us as consumers because that is one of the key things that socialism in its pursuit of justice gets wrong. If we look at the world through the veil of ignorance, we would like to be able to make decisions for ourselves, we would want to coordinate in the markets between each other through price mechanisms, not have everything centrally planned. Government is an artificial creation with the mission to deliver on the social contract, and therefore protect our rights, in particular the right to live and property rights. What actually happens, though, is that governments often take our desirable social contract from us by force in favour of fewer markets, less economic freedom, and less consumer choice.

Fairness doesn’t mean equality of outcome, it is the equality of opportunity or the freedom to choose. Only free markets combined with the rule of law can safeguard these.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

Pregnancy health warning labels are biased and flawed

When I was in the 7th form, our biology teacher showed us a smoker’s lung model followed by a brief explanation of the negative effects of smoking. But the model of the damaged lungs itself was enough to educate me, a 13-year-old, about the health consequences I would have to deal with if I ever choose to smoke. This is the essence of freedom that penetrates our adult lives: free choices made in full awareness of the responsibility that follows. Be it alcohol, cigarettes, or sugar. Complex maths formulas we are taught in school are important, but learning about the importance of preserving our consumer choice in the face of nannyism even more so. 

By introducing various obligatory warning labels such as  “smoking can cause a slow and painful death”, governments all around the world have been trying to compensate for failures of their education systems to effectively convey these messages. Because if everyone knows that smoking isn’t the healthiest habit, they won’t do it, right? 

No, they would and should be free to do so. If a consumer is determined to buy a pack of cigarettes, no warning label, and no tax will affect his behaviour. With a plethora of lifestyle regulations, nannying is now seen as inherent to governments. But this is wrong. It is the role of educational establishments to educate us about the effects of smoking or alcohol, but governments are there to guarantee we are able to exercise our freedom to choose as long as we do not cause harm to other people.

In February, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand announced its intention to make labelling on alcoholic drinks mandatory.  The new label will include the words “health warning” in bold red text, and “alcohol can cause lifelong harm to your baby”. How obvious, one would say. According to a poll conducted by YouGov, 70 per cent of Australians were aware that drinking while pregnant contributed to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder. And yet some 70 per cent of respondents supported changing labels on alcohol bottles.

Nothing is wrong with Australians wanting to see warning labels on their alcoholic beverages. The question is whether it’s achieved through government compulsion or voluntarily. In Australia, the existing rules adopted in 2011 make using a symbol with a line through a silhouette of a pregnant woman drinking a glass of wine voluntary. It is of course in the interest of the industry to live up to the expectations of its consumers, but changes to the new labels would cost $400 million in producing new labels. The higher the price of production, the higher the price for consumers.

What about adult male and female (non-pregnant) consumers of alcohol? Is it fair that they would need to pay a higher price for alcoholic products to educate pregnant women about the negative effect of consuming alcohol during pregnancy? Pregnancy health warning labels are biased and ignore the interests of a far wider group of consumers who are hurt by such regulations. It really is cheaper, more sustainable and generally more socially beneficial to invest in proper school education. 

At a time when governments are increasingly targeting our consumer choice, we should be prepared to fight back. One drop of nannyism doesn’t make a storm cloud, but a huge accumulation of them does. I don’t like living in a world where I’m treated like a child who doesn’t know that an excess of alcohol, smoking, sugar and [insert other product deemed dangerous] else may cause harm and so needs to be directed away from them.  You?


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

Campaigners speak out against latest plain pack recommendations

Maria Chaplia, media associate at the Consumer Choice Center, also voiced her concerns over the report. She said that nannying consumers by taking the responsibility for food choices off their shoulders is “a curse in disguise”.

“There is no one who denies the importance of addressing obesity. Yet there is a huge disagreement on how to solve the issue.

“The options on the table are either to limit consumer choice by proceeding with plain packaging, taxes, and other bans, or to encourage responsible parenting and physical activity without trumping on anyone’s choices. The latter is the preferred way forward.”

She added: “Plain packaging of tobacco products is driven by similar public health considerations. However, regardless of the equally noble motives in place, its failures are numerous and evident.

“The British obesity problem is rooted in the lack of physical activity, not in consumption preferences. According to Public Health England, physical activity in the UK declined by 24% since the 1960s.

“By pushing forward the plain packaging of foods, its proponents are simply shooting in the wrong direction.”

She concluded that “the most unacceptable part” of the IPPR’s plain packaging scheme is that it stems from the assumption that it knows what choices are better for individuals.

“Though framed to be in the public interest, this is highly pretentious. Not only does this belief undermine the ability of consumers to decide for themselves, but it also blocks their access to the information about the products they buy and consume.

“Information is dispersed through branding. Plain packaging is aimed to make our life plain of choices.”

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Sweets, crisps and sugary drinks should have plain packaging, says think tank

In response to the report, Maria Chaplia, media associate at the Consumer Choice Center, said: “The British obesity problem is rooted in the lack of physical activity, not in consumption preferences. According to Public Health England, physical activity in the UK declined by 24% since the 1960s. By pushing forward the plain packaging of foods, its proponents are simply shooting in the wrong direction.

“The most unacceptable part of the IPPR’s plain packaging scheme is that it stems from the assumption that it knows what choices are better for individuals. Though framed to be in the public interest, this is highly pretentious. Not only does this belief undermine the ability of consumers to decide for themselves, but it also blocks their access to the information about the products they buy and consume. Information is dispersed through branding. Plain packaging is aimed to make our life plain of choices.”

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Consumer Choice Center Presents signatories of ‘Brands Matter’ pledge

The Consumer Choice Center (CCC) has revealed the names of the 25 signatories of the ‘Brands Matter’ pledge. The CCC is aiming to gain support for the cause of brand freedom in the European Parliament and get clear responses from lawmakers on this vital consumer issue. Commenting on the pledge, Luca Bertoletti, European Affairs Manager of the […]

What #AdvertisingBans get wrong about #ConsumerBehaviour

Advertising bans are increasingly relevant in political debate, with some countries having already established rules that don’t allow for “junk food” advertising. But these proposals are all based on the assumptions that consumers are buying goods that they never would have wanted otherwise, writes Bill Wirtz. The fundamental question is: Can you make people buy something […]

A Styrofoam ban would hurt San Diego

In July, San Diego Councilman Chris Ward succeeded in getting a proposal, which would ban Styrofoam products ranging from cups and takeout boxes to egg cartons and mooring buoys, forwarded to the full council for a decisive vote. Ward and other proponents of the ban portray polystyrene—the main material in Styrofoam products—as environmentally damaging, impossible […]

Adopting failed policies: Will Singapore jeopardize its leadership in investor confidence?

While Singapore celebrates Intellectual Property Week in September 2018 aiming to become one of the global champions of intellectual property rights and investor confidence the Singaporean Ministry of Health pushes at the same time for a policy that would lead to the opposite and significantly weaken Singapore’s leadership in innovation friendliness and brand freedom in […]

Malbouffe: enlever Tony le tigre ne fera pas manger sainement les enfants

LA LIBRE: Ils sont les meilleurs juges de l’éducation de leurs enfants. Restreindre la publicité de produits dits “junk food” dans le but de protéger les enfants est une défiance vis-à-vis du jugement des parents.

Industry bodies cry foul over TfL plans to ban junk food ads

CAMPAIGN: The policy was blasted by transatlantic anti-regulation campaign group Consumer Choice Center, with managing director Fred Roeder calling it “heavy-handed and paternalistic”.

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