Peter Shawn Taylor’s article in the July Issue of Canadian Business tackled an interesting issue. Can we give consumers too much information?
Consumers need adequate information to reward marketers offering a good a deal so information is generally a good thing. That said long legal disclaimers which we click on to “Agree” before using a service on the internet aren’t often read or understood. It is therefore reasonable to argue that consumers would be better off without being bothered by the information the disclaimers contain. That said I don’t think the lesson is that consumers get too much information. I’d argue the lesson is that the way consumers get information needs to be appropriate. Fine print doesn’t help anyone much. (Presumably disclaimers are written to prevent lawsuits so I doubt anyone even tries to make them useful for consumers).
I disagree with Taylor when he conflates the problem of fine print disclosures with country of origin labelling and other clear consumer information methods, (GM food labelling, calorie counts on menus). These seem different to me. With disclosures the problem is that the consumer doesn’t receive the information. With country of origin labels the problem, to Taylor’s mind, is that consumers misuse the information they get.
Taylor argues that US “….county-of-origin labels on Canadian meat: its actually a trade barrier disguised as mandatory disclosure.” (Taylor, 2014, Page 30). The US may well be cynically using labels to protect home producers and I dislike nationalistic arguments to buy from your home country. That said I don’t think nationalistic consumer preferences are the same as traditional trade barriers like quotas or tariffs. I’d argue if a consumer wants to know where the products they buy are from they have a right to know. (As far is is possible to say given modern supply chains). This may sometimes be objectively useful information, for example, regulations differ so product safety may differ. But even where there is no objectively defensible reason I’d still support labelling. If US consumers believe that US meat is better than Canadian meat they may be wrong by objective measures but I still think that they have a right to know where their meat comes from.
Let us start with the principle that consumers have a right to information. Instead of complaining that consumers don’t deserve to know the country of origin of the products they buy people who don’t believe in nationalistic buying, like Taylor and I, need to persuade consumers that nationalistic buying is a bad idea. We shouldn’t try and hide information from the consumer.
Read: Peter Shawn Taylor 2014, We’re Drowning In Fine Print, Canadian Business, July page 30