John Banzhaf ridiculed on TV

Thanks to Velvet Glove for alerting me to this.

The rundown is that a lawsuit initiated by class action addict John Banzhaf (famously of Action on Smoking and Health)  has been reactivated by the courts of appeal and so can move forward into some discovery and then may or may not be dismissed at that point.  The lawsuit itself claims that McDonalds fraudulently passed off its offerings as healthy and misled consumers who became obese and unhealthy as a result of eating their food.  The one claimant referred to (or more precisely, their child) was a 400 pound teenager who ate their three to five times a week.

Banzhaf keeps comparing this to cigarettes as being perceived initially as a  frivolous legal action but in retrospect will be obvious, and to the food industry like the tobacco industry in fraudulently misleading a trusting public.  He never refers to the public either as gullible or intelligent.

What strikes me about this is what it suggests about the public.  It frames the issue as one of a nefarious industry that enjoys perfect trust, that is whatever the industry says people should be expected to believe and that people do in fact believe everything industry says.  What this really suggests however is that people have no critical faculties, that they discount and ignore common knowledge; this lawsuit is saying that the general public is stupid and by extension provides a basis for paternalism; people cannot be trusted to negotiate reality so the smarter of us will have to do it for them.

There is no doubt that all industries have strategies to maximize their product and develop ways of describing their products in ways that may not be entirely truthful.  There is also little doubt that most people know this.  What reasonable human being really can think that regular eating at a fast food place might not lead them to gaining weight?  Either the person is gullible or stupid, as well as somehow being able to ignore that which everyone else knows.

Do we need industry controls?  Absolutely.  The requirements of industry will always compete with the requirements of  society and it seems rational to place society first.  However, these lunatic lawsuits which represent a society composed of individuals of diminished capacity being taken advantage of , is both insulting and, in the long run, compromising to personal liberty.

(Also see this good piece by Jacob Sullum over at reason.com on the fast food issue: book review of Kessler’s End of Overeating.)

-PLB

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