Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Insalubrious Cereal

At the risk of seeming immodest, I've always had a moderate talent for sarcasm. When Bush invaded Iraq, for example, I was quick to say, "Oh sure...that'll work."

But I'm a babe in arms next to David Harsanyi:

How can Americans be expected to wrestle with the myriad dangers that confront them each day? Insalubrious cereal? Unregulated garage sales? Pools of death? Sometimes it's too much to process.

You know what we desperately are crying out for? An army of crusading federal regulatory agents with unfettered power. Who else has the fortitude and foresight to keep us all safe?
Believe it or not, this veritable pyroclastic flow of snark is his response to the news that General Mills will no longer be able to make false claims about the health benefits of Cheerios.
I am grateful that one courageous soul finally has stood up to the menacing influence of Big Cereal. Yes, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg has had enough of deceitful infiltration of Cheerios, demanding that General Mills cease and desist a marketing campaign that peddles the fallacious claim that the oat-based cereal can lower cholesterol.
The proposition that we are all less free because General Mills can no longer lie to us about Cheerios is somewhat counterintuitive, and it's fascinating to watch Harsanyi try to defend it.
Why stop with oats? Trix are not only for kids, you know. Lucky Charms are nowhere close to being "magically" delicious.
Good point...except that you can't really compare these branding slogans to specific, demonstrably false scientific claims. Calling a breakfast cereal "delicious," or claiming that kids love it, is permissible. Saying that it's "nutritious," or "part of a balanced breakfast" is also permissible, even though it's arguably misleading. But claiming that your particular formulation of oat hulls, sawdust, and carnauba wax will cure the Watery Gripes is another matter entirely, and even in my darkest moods I believe that most American consumers -- even conservative ones -- are still able to make this distinction. (The ones who can't, meanwhile, are the best possible argument for enforcing federal laws against false advertising.)

Harsanyi also takes a delicious swipe at teh PC Thought Police, by pretending -- just for laughs! -- that Lucky the Leprechaun is a stereotypical drunken Irishman, and therefore qualifies as a form of hate speech (or would, if white people weren't such good sports about stuff like that).

That's absurd, granted. But is it really more absurd than any other complaint about racial stereotyping...or false advertising, for that matter? I mean, when you stop and think about it?

Maybe Harsanyi's goal is simply to remind readers that they're angry about the government's "preferential" treatment of minorities, in hopes that this will color their reading of the Cheerios story, and keep them from wondering whether General Mills actually has a right to mislead health-conscious consumers with whatever mountebank nonsense it pleases.

Whatever the case, the gist of Harsanyi's column is that there's a right to mislead, but no right to be told the truth. If you've been wondering what a healthcare system based on the glibertarian ideal of "consumer choice" would look like, this should give you a pretty clear idea.


chris said...

"oat hulls, sawdust, and carnauba wax"
Damn! Now I have to empty my cupboards.

grouchomarxist said...

Apparently in the Free Market Utopia you're not only obliged to spend endless hours researching the best deal but even more time verifying that the information on which you base that assessment is itself reliable.

If you can find a trustworthy source, that is.

Yee-hah! Caveat emptor, baby!

I know there's no group prouder of their omni-ignorance than the glibertarians, but is it too much to ask that they bother to learn when and why the FDA was created, and what it was actually like to live in this laissez faire Eden of theirs?

Nah. It might get in the way of their theorizing.