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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Stifling Cognitive Dissonance

It's interesting how libertarians are able to shut down the cognitive dissonance between their utopian fantasy of the "trufry market" and the nearly constant barrage of lies and nonsense we are fed by actual corporations operating in the actual market. It's a minor example, but I just watched an ad in which a "doctor" claims that "all of my patients are my top priority." That's just a straightforward abuse of the plain meaning of the words "all," "top," and "priority." And yet this passes for valid communication for many market advocates.

UPDATE: By the way, Jeff Tucker just posted an article in which he actually concludes that capitalists are entitled to lie to us, because they have brought us nice ice cream!

10 comments:

  1. LOL! I really need to elaborate more on my excellent point!

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  2. Jeff, I'm glad you got a kick out of that, since it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Of course, Jeff's point is not the simple... I'm using a caricature of it.

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  3. I'm not sure why there should be any cognitive dissonance involved. Defending a general process (market) does not imply the defense of any particular institution operating within that process (corporation X).

    Also not sure what you mean by "valid" communication. But honesty is contextual; we would evaluate a statement made in a television advertisement very differently from a statement made in an affidavit. So it's a bit much to call mere "puffery" "lies" when no one takes it literally. Even judges and legislators--hardly libertarians--recognize the validity of "puffery."

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  4. "Defending a general process (market) does not imply the defense of any particular institution operating within that process (corporation X)."

    Everybody today "defends" the market. Many libertarians fetishize it. And it would be one thing if Corporation X lied; instead it's every corporation but Z.

    "So it's a bit much to call mere "puffery" "lies" when no one takes it literally."

    Yes, because marketers are really stupid, and they love wasting money on all these ads that have no effect on anyone.

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  5. "Everybody today "defends" the market."

    If only! ;)



    "Many libertarians fetishize it."

    Even if true, this doesn't imply fetishizing individual corporations or entrepreneurs.

    Confession: I didn't watch the whole Youtube video. So I'll gladly concede that your criticism was probably fair with regard to that single, individual poster. But to suggest that some random dude on Youtube that no one has ever heard of is a fair representative of libertarians would be somewhat of a strawman.



    "And it would be one thing if Corporation X lied; instead it's every corporation but Z."

    Well, if this is true, then that's a comment on human nature. And then the relevant question would be: can the overall situation be improved by non-market (aka political) solutions?

    Your posts remind me of a lecture that Israel Kirzner once gave about advertising. I watched a video of it a few years ago but regrettably I can't find it right now. As I recall, it was pretty good at addressing these types of concerns. http://fee.org/doc/israel-kirzner-lecture-on-advertising/

    "Yes, because marketers are really stupid, and they love wasting money on all these ads that have no effect on anyone."

    I never said that ads don't affect or persuade people at some level. Obviously they do. I merely said that people don't take them *literally*. Plainly, "puffery" works or else it wouldn't be so ubiquitous. But that doesn't mean that there's necessarily something wrong with it or that it's morally equivalent to "lies."

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  6. "Well, if this is true, then that's a comment on human nature."

    Yes, but institutions and culture matter. And a culture that elevates self-interest and personal gratification will be likely to create more behaviour like this.

    "And then the relevant question would be: can the overall situation be improved by non-market (aka political) solutions?"

    1) Not all non-market solutions are political.
    2) Obviously, sometimes it can. Surely, for instance, laws forbidding fraud make fraud less likely, right?

    "Plainly, "puffery" works or else it wouldn't be so ubiquitous. But that doesn't mean that there's necessarily something wrong with it or that it's morally equivalent to "lies.""

    I think what you are saying here is, "Come on, we all EXPECT businesses are lying to us in their advertising, so it's almost as though it's not a lie at all!"

    Which kind of backs my point.

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  7. I think the correct orthography for the concept frequently referenced in that video would be "true free", not "trufry", but that's just my opinion and reasonable people can disagree on this because there's no one centrual ultimate "truth" behind all this.

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  8. I know, Silas. I just got a kick out of the way the narrator kept running the words together, so it sounded like one word.

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  9. "institutions and culture matter. And a culture that elevates self-interest and personal gratification will be likely to create more behaviour like this."

    Agreed. Kirzner made this point also.

    "Not all non-market solutions are political."

    What non-market solution is not political? (I'm referring to "market" in the broad sense, encompassing all voluntary human interaction, including persuading people to change their values in the marketplace of ideas. Perhaps "civil society" would be a better term).


    "Surely, for instance, laws forbidding fraud make fraud less likely, right?"

    Yes, laws forbidding fraud do make fraud less likely. Such laws (a) already exist and are enforced, (b) are favored by almost all libertarians, and (c) are typically considered to be either part of, or an indispensable prerequisite to, the free market.

    The issue is whether it's wise to go beyond that basic legal framework in order to control the types of commercial speech to which you apparently object.


    "I think what you are saying here is, "Come on, we all EXPECT businesses are lying to us in their advertising, so it's almost as though it's not a lie at all!""

    Did you feel personally wronged when you saw that advertisement in the same way you would if someone told you a falsehood? If so, you must interpret everything you read literally. But this is not the norm, and exaggerated promotional statements are not lies because no reasonable person takes them at face value. People understand that they are said with tongue in cheek, or with a wink, etc. and not with a straight face. Or do you think that the kid who sued Pepsi should have gotten his Harrier Jet? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_v._Pepsico,_Inc.)

    Obviously there is a point at which advertising does become dishonest and fraudulent; existing laws (esp. contract law) are adequate to remedy such wrongs, IMO.

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  10. "I'm referring to "market" in the broad sense, encompassing all voluntary human interaction..."

    Well, if you're going to talk in that very funny way, you should expect others to misunderstand you!

    "Yes, laws forbidding fraud do make fraud less likely. Such laws (a) already exist and are enforced, (b) are favored by almost all libertarians, and (c) are typically considered to be either part of, or an indispensable prerequisite to, the free market."

    Yes... and they came about through a political process.

    I think that your position that advertising is both a) meant to be disbelieved and b) works is incoherent.

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