Most, of course, are simply trying to protect consumers. But is that strictly necessary? Have we really taken leave of our senses? We are all perfectly capable of using the equipment we possess, along with common sense, to take responsibility for ourselves. Both sniffing and examining fresh ingredients is a perfectly reliable way to tell if it something has deteriorated too far. The olfactory memory is an excellent device and can instantly summon the scent of fresh chicken to compare with one that smells a bit iffy. We are alerted by a stench, attracted by a ripe odour and seduced by fragrant aroma. Smell, discolouration and shape tell us much.
It’s just that this line of thinking seems to contrary to the current zeitgeist. Which is of course that manufacturers of any and everything have to be rigidly controlled by bureaucratic laws or they will poison us all in our beds.
Vide my favourite EU law, the jams, jellies, marmalades and sweet chestnut purees one, which lays down the allowable composition of compotes for 500 million people. Including the delightful assertion that carrots are fruit.
The problem is here that we human beings are really rather good at playing repeat games. We see this all the time in that new field of behavioural economics: we’ll punish people, at our own cost, if they make what we consider an unfair division of the spoils. When we’ve an activity, an interaction, which is repeated multiple times these social methods of controlling the propensity of others to cheat work very well: they’re baked into us as a species. It’s what explains why brands work, they’re a signal of continued trustworthiness. It’s trivially easy for such a brand to be destroyed if and as when the collective experience turns against it (see Ratner, G.) and it is thus something which is rigorously protected by not allowing quality to fall and thus damage said brand.
We human beings are also not so good at playing not repeat games. The once off purchases in life, the ones where the payoff comes many years into hte future, these we’re not so good at. A pension for example. Which is of course why those who would sell us such products work so damn hard to have an image, a brand, of probity and reliability.
But all of this added together tells us that the rational form of consumer protection is to have a sliding scale of it. From, at the routine end of life, not very much at all in a regulatory sense: let humans be humans there. Allow exactly that human behaviour, experience, at repeat games, to do the product sorting. At the other end, with those once off decisions that we’re more likely to get wrong, pensions, wills, probate, more regulation is just fine.
One of the things wrong with the modern world is that to an extent we do this exactly the wrong way around. We have rigid bureaucratic rules governing those day to day products like jam and leave the really big decisions to professional reputations. You know, if someone screws up probate, by definition a once in a lifetime event, it’s the Law Society that you complain to about their not following professional standards…..