Targets of "protection"

I probably spend far too much time on the local Philadelphia gun-control stuff. Maybe I need some form of psychological help. The problem I have is this: I subscribe to the Philadelphia Inquirer, and whenever I see misleading or manipulative information going unchallenged and staring me in the face, my gut reaction is to leap to my blog and challenge it.

Today's gun protest puff piece was no exception. The usual anti-gun people are staging a march on Harrisburg against guns. Nothing surprising there. It's their right to protest guns and to advocate for anything they want, and even though I suspect the Inquirer might not be as solicitous in their reporting of a rally by the other side, if I wrote a blog post every time there was another anti-gun rally, there'd be a convergence of my blogger burnout and reader burnout, and I'd rather avoid that.

It's not that Sarah Brady and her ilk get a pass from me; it's just that what they say is so predictable as to be boring. However, it's tough for me to ignore a discredited Brady-style untruth when it comes from Philadelphia's director of consumer affairs (a job for which he is paid with tax dollars):

Lance Haver, the city's director of consumer affairs, said the notion that a handgun makes a household safer "is the biggest consumer fraud going."

He added that a handgun in a home "is 22 times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder."

The famous "more likely to kill a family member" line was thrown at Dr. Helen Smith by a doctor after she had her Cardiac Defibrillator implanted:
The next thing I knew, the doctor had dropped off some literature on "studies" indicating that more people are killed with a handgun in their home by family members etc. (yawn) than use their weapons for any type of self-defense (this is actually not true).
That last link points to an essay by David Kopel, who thoroughly debunked the oft-repeated claim:
The famous factoid that a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to kill a family member than to kill a criminal is predicated on a similar misclassification. Of the 43 deaths, 37 are suicides; and while there are obviously many ways in which a person can commit suicide, only a gun allows a small woman a realistic opportunity to defend herself at a distance from a large male predator.

Emory University medical professor Arthur Kellermann is a one-man factory of this type of misleading data. One of his most famous studies purported to show that owning a gun is associated with a 2.7 times greater risk of being murdered. Kellermann compared murder victims in several cities with sociologically similar people a few blocks away in those cities, who had not been murdered.

The 2.7 factoid was trumpeted all over the country; but the study is patently illogical. First of all, Kellermannīs own data show that owning a security system, or renting a home rather than owning it, are also associated with equally large increased risks of death. Yet newspapers did not start running dire stories warning people to rip out their burglar alarms or to start lobbying their condo association to dissolve. The 2.7 factoid also overlooks the obvious fact that one reason people choose to own guns, or to install burglar alarms, is that they are already at higher risk of being victimized by crime. As Yale law professor John Lott points out, Kellermannīs methodology is like comparing 100 people who went to a hospital in a given year with 100 similar people who did not, finding that more of the hospital patients died, and then announcing that hospitals increase the risk of death. Kellermannīs method would also prove that possession of insulin increases the risk of diabetes.

The media are complicit in many of these lies....

The Kellerman study has been repeatedly debunked, and there's more here. And the NRA-ILA looks at the Kellerman "revisions," and the shiftiness of the shifting numbers. (43-22-18, etc.)

But my concern involves more than guns. Philadelphia's Consumer Advocate (I realize the proper title is "Director of Consumer Affairs" but I'm selfishly trying to prevent tendonitis here) not only doesn't like guns, he doesn't seem to be terribly fond of the free market system. From a description of his interview with Philly IndyMedia:

In this Philly IMC interview Lance Haver questions why we've "created a society where 0.1% control 40% of the wealth of America". He goes on to raise a challenge that we must return our political focus to the "fight over a more equitable distribution of wealth." In this wide ranging video Lance focuses on the nature of democracy in our current consumer culture and how it relates to employment, welfare, wealth, the middle class, Walmart and most importantly, how to build towards alternatives.
"Our current consumer culture"? Forgive my suspicion, but doesn't that sound as if he might be against something? Against what? The "culture" of "consumers"?


But he's a "consumer advocate."

What does the term mean? I thought it meant advocacy for consumers? Might I have been wrong?

The use of the word "culture" in this context almost implies that there's an issue involving what some people would call a "class." Is there?

I don't know, but maybe I can find some clues. Here's Philadelphia's Consumer Advocate, sounding off on "cutthroat capitalism":

The culture of cutthroat capitalism has permeated our society. There is no real job security, no safety net, companies lay off workers without conscience, close factories without concern, merge and throw thousands out of work, all so a handful of the very rich can become even richer. American society has become less civil. And those hurt by these changes, which are the majority of Americans, are looking for some one to blame.

The corporatists use our fears and loss of civility to confuse people into voting against their own interests. The reason why, they say, we feel insecure, unsure about the future and under attack, the reason why our society is less civil is because of the moral decay of abortion and gay rights.

On the other hand, we, all too often, instead of offering an alternative reason why people feel under attack, attack the folks who are feeling insecure. Instead of joining with people who are feeling the difficulties caused by the cutthroat capitalists, we attack them. We tell them they are dumb, ignorant and just plain stupid and then wonder why they don't vote for our candidates.

It is time for us to join with those who are feeling hard pressed by our economic system. We must make an attempt to show that we are on the same side. We must organize with them for affordable utilities, insurance, housing and day care. It is time for us to say yes, you are right to feel more insecure, but not because a couple of people you don't know are getting married in someplace you have never been, but because the XYZ company is overcharging you, taking your job and trying to pollute your drinking water. And that multinational corporations have no loyalty to people in our countries, just their wealthy stockholders. If we want to lead, at the very least we have to champion issues that people feel, understand and support. It may feel more comfortable to speak with people who already agree with us, it just doesn't do that much good. And we must finally admit to ourselves that we can't call the people who voted for Bush names and then wonder why they don't like us.

Consumer advocate or not, it's obvious that Philadelphia's Director of Consumer Affairs subscribes to a left-wing political agenda. People may or may not agree with him (I don't), but if left wing activism is what "consumer advocacy" is all about, why engage in the "non-partisan" pretense? And if it is all political, then what about the non-leftist consumers? Who gets to be their consumer advocate?

I think it's worth asking why so many people accept the mantra of "consumer advocacy" in such an unquestioning manner, and look up to anyone who runs around with the pompous title of "consumer advocate" in the way people once looked up to religious leaders. As I've discussed, I don't think it's democratic (even though it might be Democratic), because I am a consumer, and not only don't I think these people are looking out for my interests, in many cases, they seem to be opposing them.

Why do only some people get to speak for "consumers"? If we are all consumers, and we are forced to pay taxes to fund the job of someone who claims to speak for "us," then why aren't all consumers taken into account? Why do "consumer advocates" want to yank the fillings out of my teeth and prevent mercury from being used in any future fillings I might have? To protect me? From what? What if I don't think I need protection? What if yanking out my fillings would do more harm than good? What if I talk to my dentist and we both decide on amalgam; what right gives a tax-guzzling bureaucrat to enter that decision -- and in the name of me, the consumer?

While I'm a libertarian and I admit my bias, I think that if we consider the overall history of technological and agricultural developments and improvements, it's the free market that has made possible that which we consume. Even the very "consumers" themselves; how long would they be consumers if there were nothing to consume? I think a compelling case can be made that not only does the free market system offer the best deal for consumers, but consumers owe their very existence (as a class, if you will) to it.

Of course, those who dislike the free market system are free to disagree with me. But is it really fair to disagree with me in my own name and on my behalf? As far as I'm concerned, that's precisely what happens when left wing, anti-market activists are allowed to masquerade as "consumer advocates."

Does anyone know whether there such a thing as a "free market consumer advocate"? (I can't find any such organization.)

A classic example of the free market is the WAL-MART phenomenon. I realize that some consumers hate WAL-MART (and choose not to shop there) but some consumers love it. Lance Haver has helped promote a vehemently anti-WAL-MART propaganda film. Whether this helps consumers is at least open to debate; here's a former GE worker who thinks WAL-MART helps consumers, and who raises questions about "consumer" advocacy:

Wal Mart is one of the biggest consumer advocates out there....far better "consumer advocate" than these $250,000 a year hacks who head up these bogus "consumer advocate" groups....I still wonder where they get their money....unlike WalMart, I am sure some how the taxpayer is paying for these anti-free market "consumer advocate" groups.
If Philadelphia's Consumer Advocate is any example, the taxpayers are funding left-wing anti-business activism in the name of consumers. I think the question of whether this actually helps consumers is a legitimate topic for debate.

While I hate quoting the Philadelphia Inquirer without an actual link to the Inquirer, according to Philadelphia City Paper, in 1998 the Inquirer wasn't too fond of Haver:

The editorial slammed him for promoting a "living wage" that would "add one more reason to employees to steer clear of a jobs-needy city." And while they credit Haver with victories against banking interests and the establishment of a public advocate for gas consumers, the Inky editorial board slashed him for the way he did things. "Any evaluation, though, has to look at style as well as substance," they wrote, condemning what they call "guerrilla theater."

The piece alluded to his plans to go into business, and sent him off with, "The city today probably needs Lance Haver, businessman, more than it does Lance Haver, consumer rabble-rouser."

Well, that was 1998. Today he's "director of consumer affairs." And how does he feel about the Inquirer? I'm not sure, but when the paper was sold he wanted the Pew Foundation to get involved:
Lance Haver, consumer affairs director for the City of Philadelphia, said he was drafting a letter urging Pew and other foundations to take a leading role in reviewing what should happen to Knight Ridder's Philadelphia papers if the company were sold.
Among other things, he's also called for regulation of gas profits, and demanded price controls in the wake of Hurricane Katrina:
The question isn't, are the oil companies profiteering? It is: Should a handful of multibillion dollar companies be allowed to use the pain and suffering of a national catastrophe to increase their profits?

At times of national emergencies, wouldn't it be better to have prices for necessities set by the collective wisdom of a deliberate body instead of by irrational fear and panic of "the market"?

Sorry, but when I see the phrase "collective wisdom" I tend to recoil in horror. And about those gas prices. They're a lot lower now. Had the "collective wisdom" intervened, does anyone really think we'd be ever be looking at two dollar gasoline again? More likely, the "collective wisdom" "consumer protection" people would have raised taxes, imposed controls, and I think today there'd be long lines and chronic fuel shortages. In the name of protecting consumers!

With such "protection," what the "advocates" deride as "consumer culture" would be largely destroyed. Might that be the idea?

There are lots of people who think we should destroy the culture. Advocacy of cultural destruction is nothing new. I just wish people wouldn't destroy things while claiming they're saving them.

Who protects against the protectors? This post started with "consumer advocacy" against guns, but at least gun owners know how endangered their form of consumerism is, and they have the NRA and other groups to stand up for their rights (especially when they're targeted in the name of "protection.")

The rest -- ordinary consumers of ordinary products that haven't been singled out for special attack -- are generally clueless.

This makes them easy targets.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Looking over this, it occurs to me that if "consumer advocacy" is inherently antibusiness, anti-free market, and ultimately anti-consumer, it may be oxymoronic to utter the phrase "free market consumer advocate."

I guess my complaint is with false labeling.

posted by Eric on 09.15.06 at 11:28 AM


Perhaps the most dangerous possession of people in the western world should be revealed. The automobile. Death and disability due to so called
accidents is and has been at epidemic proportions.
What is the increased risk for families owning a vehicle of being killed or injured in a vehicle crash as compared to a non owner?
Few families can say that they have not suffered loss through these so called accidents.

Hugh   ·  September 15, 2006 1:56 PM

Yes, the deadly car. Or the assault weapon known as the SUV.... Pretty soon car owners will have to start their own version of the NRA.

Eric Scheie   ·  September 15, 2006 4:12 PM

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