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Is it an appropriate function of government to require private companies to disclose (in the form of written package labels) the relevant health facts and safety information about their products to the consumers before a purchase? What is the Objectivist view on "buyer beware"?

asked Aug 24 '12 at 14:44

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edited Aug 24 '12 at 15:15

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Absolutely not. The government only has a legitimate role in securing peoples' rights.

You do not have a right to food labels on packaging. Rather, you have the right to not do business with companies who fail to provide the information you want (and they have the right to forego your business by ignoring your request for such information).

That said, companies do not have a right to defraud or recklessly endanger you. Focusing on labeling: gaining your business by misleading you about their product is the crime of fraud, and it should be prosecuted by the government.

answered Aug 24 '12 at 15:09

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

edited Aug 24 '12 at 16:32

For clarity -- I think the idea is that even if three companies in a town colluded and gave everyone milk that was spoiled and expensive, that there would always be a fourth that could appear and provide cleaner, better milk and thus win over customers. While I would love to firmly believe that this would always occur, I do worry that in some areas (small towns) and certain industries (ones with high barriers to entry), collusion and price fixing are more the norm than the exception. Thus one wonders how, sans some government attention, people get a safe, healthy and well-priced product?

(Aug 24 '12 at 15:43) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

Again, nobody has a right to fresh, "well-priced" milk. What we have is the right to peacefully pursue it. And as much as someone might fancy themselves a compassionate and benevolent shepherd of society, acting in any degree to secure such a "right" to some good or service would necessarily entail engaging in actual rights violations to force one man to serve another man's life. That's the principle behind slavery, and it's pure evil.

(Aug 24 '12 at 16:26) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Move to a different town? Buy your milk over the Internet?

(I'm assuming here we're not talking about poisonous milk which is sold as something safe for consumption. You can't put "Milk" on the label and sell poison.)

(Aug 24 '12 at 16:26) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Or from another angle: it is good to worry about things not going well for folks and trying to find ways to make that better. But any "cure" in this spirit is infinitely worse than the "disease" -- like curing inconvenient infections in a way that creates a superbug. While it is easy to see a nice improvement in what prompted the action, it is hard to see the serious harms entailed in even "mildly" violating such a fundamental principle as individual rights and the evil of initiating force.

(Aug 24 '12 at 16:48) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Food for thought ! ;-)

(Aug 24 '12 at 17:14) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

With regard to food SAFETY, isn't it the role of the government to protect individuals from harm? (Of course, that's a different subject than requiring the "Nutrition Facts" labels we have in the USA.)

(Aug 24 '12 at 17:46) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

No, the proper role of government is not to "protect individuals from harm" -- that's far too broad (and awfully vague). The proper role of government is to protect individuals against a specific kind of harm: violations of their rights.

(Aug 24 '12 at 18:15) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Rights violations entail coercion that suppresses the victim's moral agency, preventing them from peacefully pursuing their life and happiness. So if you are harmed in a non-rights-violating way and respond as if it were a rights violation, then YOU are actually the rights-violating aggressor. You might enjoy my posting here on this front.

(Aug 24 '12 at 18:16) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Regarding food safety: selling someone poisonous food is usually a rights violation -- depending on context it might be anything from a civil tort due to negligence up to a serious felony like murder, if done intentionally.

(Aug 24 '12 at 18:27) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

And so, with regard to food safety, is it legitimate for the government to be involved in protecting the consumer?

(Aug 26 '12 at 12:04) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

"Protecting the consumer" is too vague -- some "consumer protection" would commit rights violations against producers, while other "consumer protection" would actually secure consumers against rights violations. As I've been saying, a proper government secures rights, so violating them is Right Out.

(Aug 26 '12 at 12:25) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

So given your response above, is it legitimate for government to have food safety regulations/laws where the possibility of serious health consequences is supported by science?

(Aug 26 '12 at 13:02) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

No. Again, you do not have a right to ANY service, including food testing or labeling. So mandating such is not a proper function of government; the customer's need/desire for these is often legitimate, but satisfying it via "regulation" violates rights instead of securing them. If customers want those services, either the companies can provide them via voluntary membership in standards-associations, or other companies can arise to satisfy the market demand. But as always: misleading people about your product/service and negligently endangering others are crimes which should be prosecuted.

(Aug 27 '12 at 12:01) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg, how might one be harmed in a non-rights-violating way?

(Aug 27 '12 at 17:46) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

orb, the government should not be in charge of setting any standards for product quality. When it does, then companies which don't meet the standard are forced out of business, and companies which meet the standard don't innovate much beyond it, for fear of the government further raising the standard.

But that's not the reason to keep government out of the market. The reason is that every businessman has a right to sell an inferior product, as long as he doesn't lie about it.

There are laws against fraud. That's all the market needs from government.

(Aug 27 '12 at 17:53) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

There's lots of ways to be harmed by someone else's lameness in a non-rights-violating way: suppose they have a coarse personality, or are thoughtless, or torture their animals or whatever. Any of that could harm my delicate psyche and leave make me disheartened and disgusted and so on -- but it isn't a matter for the law because no rights have been violated. Instead, the proper response is to distance myself (and maybe advertise to others why I'm doing so if it is bad enough -- and in really heinous cases, I'd actively campaign to lead as many others as possible to shun the jerk, too).

(Aug 27 '12 at 18:23) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

What happens when individuals start dropping dead due to food pathogens -- pathogens which are largely, but not completely, avoidable when certain precautions are taken? (which may be unknown to the producer if they are trade secrets). We all need to eat, and our very lives are at stake here.

(Aug 28 '12 at 08:45) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

Because eating is a necessity for life, not a choice, what is incorrect about viewing this problem as one of the government protecting my individual rights?

(Aug 28 '12 at 08:51) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

A "right" is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. (see Virtue of Selfishness) A principle is "a fundamental, primary, or general truth, on which other truths depend." (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal)

Rand did not give these definitions off the top of her head. Understanding her philosophy is quite dependent on understanding these definitions.

Your rights can only be violated by other individuals. Only individuals can understand, and be expected to apply, principles.

(Aug 28 '12 at 09:04) anthony anthony's gravatar image

If a man dies of starvation due to solely his own negligence and/or due to a natural disaster or other natural occurrence, it is not correct to say that his right to life has been violated. Nature does not have the capability of understanding principles, and while a man who starves to death through his own negligence has violated a moral principle, it is not a moral principle in a social context.

If a man dies due to the negligence of another, that is a violation of his right to life.

"when individuals start dropping dead due to food pathogens", the distinction is quite important.

(Aug 28 '12 at 09:19) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Please clarify your point in your last two sentences -- are you saying that the presence of the pathogens would be considered or would not be considered negligence? (given that there could be methods undertaken to prevent their occurrence)

And I don't understand your answer to this question (or if you answered it): Because eating is a necessity for life, not a choice, what is incorrect about viewing this problem as one of the government protecting my individual rights?

(Aug 28 '12 at 09:27) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

The presence of pathogens is not negligence. It could be caused by negligence.

The mere possibility of being able to take methods to prevent their occurrence is not sufficient to prove negligence. The elements of negligence are duty, breach, causation, and damages.

As for your final sentence, I find it to be incomprehensible. I could guess at what you're trying to say, but I don't see the point in that.

Eating is a necessity for life. Eating is a choice. Life is a choice. These are principles, not problems. A right is, as defined above.

(Aug 28 '12 at 09:37) anthony anthony's gravatar image

If you market your meat as high quality and extremely safe to eat, even raw, then you have a high duty of care to provide high quality, safe meat. This doesn't mean the government needs to inspect it. It means you have a duty to hire someone to inspect it. If you market your meat as "I just slaughtered my pig with a rusty shovel, wanna buy it?", then you have a much lower, if any, duty of care. The moral principle in this latter case is for the purchaser to make sure to not to eat the meat without taking the proper precautions.

In between these two, let the lawyers fight about it.

(Aug 28 '12 at 09:51) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Unless you are suicidal and/or mentally ill, eating is a necessity for living, not a choice such as driving a car, sailing a boat, or sky-diving. Perhaps someone else can answer my question if it is incomprehensible to Anthony.

(Aug 28 '12 at 10:07) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

"Man has been called a rational being, but rationality is a matter of choice—and the alternative his nature offers him is: rational being or suicidal animal. Man has to be man—by choice; he has to hold his life as a value—by choice; he has to learn to sustain it—by choice; he has to discover the values it requires and practice his virtues—by choice. A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality." - from The Virtue of Selfishness, quoting Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged

(Aug 28 '12 at 11:17) anthony anthony's gravatar image

And given that man makes the choice to sustain life, rather than die, eating food is no longer a choice; it is an absolute necessity -- so again, what is incorrect about viewing this problem as one of the government protecting individual rights by setting regulations to ensure that the food we eat is safe for sustaining life?

(Aug 28 '12 at 12:43) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image
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Asked: Aug 24 '12 at 14:44

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Last updated: Aug 28 '12 at 12:46