John Singleton with Bob HowardRip Van Australia (Stanmore: Cassell Australia, 1977), pp. 52-56, under the heading “Consumer Protection”.

An elephant is a mouse built to government specifications.

To protect men from their own folly is to people the world with fools.

The area of consumer protection legislation is where knee-jerk reflexes predominate. Every time there is an accident, the cry will go up, “there ought to be a law”, “it shouldn’t be allowed”, or, “the government should stop it”.

So we have compulsory seat belt and crash helmet laws; strict laws on other safety devices for cars; laws regulating swimming pool safety (and in N.S.W. the prospect of licences for pools); strict food quality and inspection laws; stringent tests for new drugs; censorship of movies and literature; drug bans; building standards; advertising restrictions; licencing of just about every skilled occupation going; really heavy, incomprehensible, guilty-until-proven-innocent company legislation; etc., etc., etc., etc., and etc.

We have an army of bureaucrats to wield all these mickey mouse clubs, our courts cluttered up with “victimless crime” offences as a result, plus the ever-increasing taxation burden to pay for it all. Therefore, it is time perhaps to have a closer look at the rationale for all this funny legislation.

The basic idea behind it is that we are fools, and that we need protection — or, not us really, but “others”.

It’s always “others”, but unfortunately we are the “others” to someone else. People, it seems, have to be protected from themselves, and from those unscrupulous characters out there waiting to rip them off.

The problem with this fine theory is that the more you protect people from their errors, the more errors they are going to make, and the more they will expect you to protect them. Consumer protection legislation, then, encourages dependence, a lack of personal responsibility and judgement, and the growth of the Big Brother State.

We might also ask ourselves what the legal principle behind such legislation is. It is that people are to be assumed guilty until proven innocent — the legal premise of dictators, fascists and thugs. Licencing legislation, for example, forces people to prove that their product, equipment, or service, is not guilty of being substandard, before the licence is granted. Standards force builders, manufacturers, processors, and others, to prove that their products are not guilty of being substandard before they are approved. This is a complete perversion of the law. It violates our right to freedom — in particular, our rights to freedom of choice and free trade.

What, then, are the results of this legislation? One of the most accepted areas of such legislation is in the field of medicine. Very strict rules are prescribed for the testing of new drugs, especially since the thalidomide disaster. Professor Sam Peltzman of the University of Chicago completed, in 1974, a massive and so far unrefuted study of the results of consumer protection legislation administered by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S.A. He found that the “toughening” of the laws following the thalidomide tragedy over fifteen years ago has had the following results:

  1. The number of new drugs brought to the market each year has been cut by half with no corresponding reduction in inefficacious drugs.
  2. The cost of drug development has doubled.
  3. Drug prices have increased because of reduced competition between drugs, so that the sick pay $50 million extra each year.
  4. Substantial net social costs have been incurred from deaths and illnesses that could have been prevented, if the development of new drugs had not been hampered by the new amendments to the laws.

Peltzman concluded that “consumer losses from purchases of ineffective drugs or hastily marketed unsafe drugs appear to have been trivial compared to the gains (formerly available) from innovation” (quoted in Roger Lea MacBride, A New Dawn for America, Green Hill Publishers, Ottawa, Illionois, pp. 47-48).

Another result of consumer protection legislation is that minimum standards frequently become de facto maximum standards as well. Building contractors, for example, can build their structures “to standard” and use that as a selling point, and thus escape to an extent, from true market demands.

The Paul Newman, Steve McQueen movie, Towering Inferno, provided a frightening example of one possibility in this regard. The movie featured a new building, taller and larger than anything that had ever been built before. The architect realised that “standard” electrical wiring would not be good enough for such a building, and so prescribed wire to his own specifications. The builder, however, to cut corners and make some money on the side, reverted back to the legal standards and installed the wiring in accordance with them. As a result, the wiring overloaded when the lights were turned on, and, in burning out, started the fire that was the subject of the most successful movie of 1975.

This illustrates another extremely common result of consumer protection legislation: corruption. It is widely known that bribing public officials is the easiest and often to only way to get building applications approved.

The only real plus for this legislation is that it allows politicians to strut and posture to prove their “concern” and “deep humanitarianism”. As with most government activity, however, it is an attempt to sweep problems under the carpet and take the quick, easy, short-cut solution — coercion. It never has worked, and isn’t about to start to now. It merely creates a “whole category of victimless crimes” (see, for example, Gun Control).

What alternatives do we have? How can we protect consumers against the rip-off merchants and dangerous products? First of all, there will always be a place for the old faithful, caveat emptor — let the consumer beware. The virtue of this is that it does teach people hard lessons and encourages independence and personal responsibility. But it is not good enough. Sometimes the lesson can be permanent and fatal. The next possibility is free market consumer protection agencies — the free market equivalent of the current (and inadequate) Choice magazine, for example. These could report on goods and services and provide special inspection and testing services for consumers, like the N.R.M.A. car inspection service. On a free market, a reputation for fair and honest reports would be such an agency’s greatest asset.

The most important source of money and incentive for the provision of private consumer protection organisations, however, is likely to be insurance companies. Their incentive lies in the fact that they have to pay the bills for accidents and deaths. In order to be competitive, to offer the largest range of cover at the lowest possible premiums, they would needs ways and means of reducing risks. So car insurance firms would insist on certain standards of car safety before they insured particular cars. Because no car manufacturer would want it known that its cars were uninsurable, they would obviously co-operate closely with the insurance companies. In this way, the market would set standards that were much more relevant, flexible and strictly enforced than the present government ones.

Insurance companies, for example, could not afford corruption, because all it would lead to would be high payouts for accidents, whereas a politician stands to lose nothing. Not even sleep.

The same arguments apply to all drugs, appliances, construction companies, doctors, dentists, food processors, and so on. The government should still have the responsibility for policing such things as theft, coercion and, in particular, fraud. But the government can only morally act after the fraud has occurred. If we want to protect ourselves against fraud, then we should take our own precautions. We cannot seek to protect ourselves by violating the rights of others — for example, by enforcing business legislation. This only compounds the error of government interference.

We don’t have a “right” to “adequate” standard products, or to “clean” food. We only have a right to expect what we contract to receive. If we do not take the trouble to explicitly contract for what we want, then the onus is on us to ensure that what we get is what we want. It is only when the product is deliberately misrepresented by the seller that a fraud is committed.

If a product is inadvertently defective, most reputable companies, in fairness and to protect their reputations, will willingly exchange it or make good damages — within reason. This is so even today. On an open, competitive market, good reputations would be even more valuable assets. They would also be harder to get, but easier to lose. This would be an additional factor ensuring consumer protection.

As a last resort, there is the power of the Press. This would be particularly so if we could get politics out of our lives and hence out of the papers.

Dissatisfied customers are well within their rights to organise economic boycotts and advertising campaigns against products, services, companies or individuals, provided they can substantiate their claims. But they should not fall into the trap of going on to demand government legislation to “protect” them.

This is not an exhaustive list of the possibilities that exist for providing a voluntary system of consumer protection. We do believe, however, that: (1) such a system must be found because the current system violates the rights of both consumers and suppliers of goods and services, and should be repealed; (2) the current system is largely counter-productive and/or ineffective anyway; and (3) a private system would provide a more effective, relevant and flexible system than the one we have now.

(in order of appearance on
  1. Governments Consume Wealth — They Don't Create It
  2. Singo and Howard Propose Privatising Bondi Beach
  3. Singo and Howard Speak Out Against the Crackpot Realism of the CIS and IPA
  4. Singo and Howard on Compromise
  5. Singo and Howard on Monopolies
  6. Singo and Howard Support Sydney Harbour Bridge Restructure
  7. Singo and Howard on Striking at the Root, and the Failure of Howard, the CIS and the IPA
  8. Singo and Howard Explain Why Australia is Not a Capitalist Country
  9. Singo and Howard Call Democracy Tyrannical
  10. Singo and Howard on Drugs!
  11. Simpleton sells his poll philosophy
  12. Singo and Howard Decry Australia Day
  13. Singo and Howard Endorse the Workers Party
  14. Singo and Howard Oppose the Liberal Party
  15. Singo and Howard Admit that Liberals Advocate and Commit Crime
  16. Up the Workers! Bob Howard's 1979 Workers Party Reflection in Playboy
  17. John Whiting's Inaugural Workers Party Presidential Address
  18. John Singleton and Bob Howard 1975 Monday Conference TV Interview on the Workers Party
  19. Singo and Howard on Aborigines
  20. Singo and Howard on Conservatism
  21. Singo and Howard on the Labor Party
  22. Singo, Howard and Hancock Want to Secede
  23. John Singleton changes his name
  24. Lang Hancock's Foreword to Rip Van Australia
  25. New party will not tolerate bludgers: Radical party against welfare state
  26. Singo and Howard introduce Rip Van Australia
  27. Singo and Howard on Knee-Jerks
  28. Singo and Howard on Tax Hunts (Lobbying)
  29. Singo and Howard on Rights
  30. Singo and Howard on Crime
  31. Singo and Howard on Justice
  32. Singo and Howard on Unemployment
  33. John Singleton on 1972 cigarette legislation
  34. Singo and Howard: Gambling Should Neither Be Illegal Nor Taxed
  35. Holed up, hold-up and holdout
  36. The libertarian alternative vs the socialist status quo
  37. Workers Party Platform
  38. Singo and Howard Join Forces to Dismantle Welfare State
  39. Singo and Howard on Business
  40. Singo and Howard on Discrimination
  41. Singo and Howard on the Greens
  42. Singo and Howard on Xenophobia
  43. Singo and Howard on Murdoch, Packer and Monopolistic Media
  44. Singo and Howard Explain that Pure Capitalism Solves Pollution
  45. Singo and Howard Defend Miners Against Government
  46. Singo and Howard on Bureaucracy
  47. Singo and Howard on Corporate Capitalism
  48. The last words of Charles Russell
  49. Ted Noffs' Preface to Rip Van Australia
  50. Right-wing anarchists revamping libertarian ideology
  51. Giving a chukka to the Workers Party
  52. Govt "villain" in eyes of new party
  53. "A beautiful time to be starting a new party": Rand fans believe in every man for himself
  54. Introducing the new Workers' Party
  55. Paul Rackemann 1980 Progress Party Election Speech
  56. Lang Hancock 1978 George Negus Interview
  57. Voices of frustration
  58. Policies of Workers Party
  59. Party Promises to Abolish Tax
  60. AAA Tow Truck Co.
  61. Singo and Howard on Context
  62. Singo and Howard Blame Roosevelt for Pearl Harbour
  63. Singo and Howard on Apathy
  64. Workers Party is "not just a funny flash in the pan"
  65. Singo and Howard on Decency
  66. John Singleton in 1971 on the 2010 Federal Election
  67. Matthew, Mark, Luke & John Pty. Ltd. Advertising Agents
  68. Viv Forbes Wins 1986 Adam Smith Award
  69. The writing of the Workers Party platform and the differences between the 1975 Australian and American libertarian movements
  70. Who's Who in the Workers Party
  71. Bob Howard interviewed by Merilyn Giesekam on the Workers Party
  72. A Farewell to Armchair Critics
  73. Sukrit Sabhlok interviews Mark Tier
  74. David Russell Leads 1975 Workers Party Queensland Senate Team
  75. David Russell Workers Party Policy Speech on Brisbane TV
  76. Bludgers need not apply
  77. New party formed "to slash controls"
  78. The Workers Party
  79. Malcolm Turnbull says "the Workers party is a force to be reckoned with"
  80. The great consumer protection trick
  81. The "Workers" speak out
  82. How the whores pretend to be nuns
  83. The Workers Party is a Political Party
  84. Shit State Subsidised Socialist Schooling Should Cease Says Singo
  85. My Journey to Anarchy:
    From political and economic agnostic to anarchocapitalist
  86. Workers Party Reunion Intro
  87. Singo and Howard on Freedom from Government and Other Criminals
  88. Singo and Howard on Young People
  89. Singo and Howard Expose how Government Healthcare Controls Legislate Doctors into Slavery
  90. Singo and Howard Engage with Homosexuality
  91. Singo and Howard Demand Repeal of Libel and Slander Laws
  92. Singo and Howard on Consumer Protection
  93. Singo and Howard on Consistency
  94. Workers Party is born as foe of government
  95. Political branch formed
  96. Government seen by new party as evil
  97. Singo and Howard on Non-Interference
  98. Singo and Howard on Women's Lib
  99. Singo and Howard on Licences
  100. Singo and Howard on Gun Control
  101. Singo and Howard on Human Nature
  102. Singo and Howard on Voting
  103. Singo and Howard on
    Inherited Wealth
  104. Singo and Howard on Education
  105. Singo and Howard on Qualifications
  106. Ron Manners on the Workers Party
  107. Singo and Howard Hate Politicians
  108. Undeserved handouts make Australia the lucky country
  109. A happy story about Aborigines
  110. John Singleton on Political Advertising
  111. Richard Hall, Mike Stanton and Judith James on the Workers Party
  112. Singo Incites Civil Disobedience
  113. How John Singleton Would Make Tony Abbott Prime Minister
  114. The Discipline of Necessity
  115. John Singleton on the first election the Workers Party contested
  116. Libertarians: Radicals on the right
  117. The Bulletin on Maxwell Newton as Workers Party national spokesman on economics and politics
  118. Singo and Howard: Australia Should Pull Out of the Olympics
  119. Singo and Howard Like Foreign Investment
  120. Mark Tier corrects Nation Review on the Workers Party
  121. The impossible dream
  122. Why can't I get away with it?
  123. The bold and boring Lib/Lab shuffle
  124. Time for progress
  125. The loonie right implodes
  126. Max Newton: Maverick in Exile
  127. John Singleton on refusing to do business with criminals and economic illiterates
  128. Censorship should be banned
  129. "Listen, mate, a socialist is a bum"
  130. John Singleton on Advertising
  131. John Singleton on why he did the Hawke re-election campaign
  132. Sinclair Hill calls for dropping a neutron bomb on Canberra
  133. Bob Howard in Reason 1974-77
  134. John Singleton defends ockerism
  135. Singo and Howard talk Civil Disobedience
  136. The Census Con
  137. Singo and Howard Oppose Australian Participation in the Vietnam War
  138. Did John Singleton oppose the mining industry and privatising healthcare in 1990?
  139. Bob Carr in 1981 on John Singleton's political bent
  140. John Singleton-Ita Buttrose interview (1977)
  141. John Singleton on elections: "a Massive One-Day Sale!"
  142. John Hyde's Progress Party praise
  143. King Leonard of Hutt River Declares Defensive Just War Against Australia the Aggressor
  144. Singo says Lang Hancock violated Australia's 11th commandment: Thou Shalt Not Succeed
  145. Singleton: the White Knight of Ockerdom
  146. John Singleton bites into Sinclair Hill's beef
  147. Save Parramatta Road
  148. 1979 news item on new TV show John Singleton With a Lot of Help From His Friends
  149. Smoking, Health and Freedom
  150. Singo and Howard on Unions
  151. Singo and Howard Smash the State
  152. Singo and Howard on the big issue of Daylight Saving
  153. Come back Bob - It was all in fun!
  154. A few "chukkas" in the Senate for polo ace?
  155. Country Rejuvenation - Towards a Better Future
  156. Singo and Howard on Profits, Super Profits and Natural Disasters
  157. John Singleton's 1977 pitch that he be on a committee of one to run the Sydney 1988 Olympics for profit
  158. Thoughts on Land Ownership
  159. 1975 Max Newton-Ash Long interview on the Workers Party
  160. The Electoral Act should allow voters to choose "none of the above"
  161. The great Labor Party platform: first or last, everybody wins a prize
  162. The politics of marketing - laugh now, pay later
  163. Singo and Howard call Australia fascist and worse
  164. The mouse will roar
  165. Viv Forbes and Jim Fryar vs Malcolm Fraser in 1979
  166. Quip, Quote, Rant and Rave: four of Viv Forbes' letters to the editor in The Australian in 1979
  167. Australia's First Official Political Party Poet Laureate: The Progress Party's Ken Hood in 1979
  168. Hancock's playing very hard to get
  169. Harry M. Miller and The Australian disgrace themselves
  170. Ocker ad genius takes punt on art
  171. John Singleton 1976 ocker Monday Conference Max Harris debate
  172. John Singleton mocks university students on civil liberties and freedom of choice in 1971
  173. Murray Rothbard championed on Australian television in 1974 (pre-Workers Party!) by Maureen Nathan
  174. John Singleton profile in 1977 Australian MEN Vogue
  175. I think that I shall never see a telegraph pole as lovely as a tree
  176. Ralph Nader vs John Singleton on Consumer Protection
  177. John Singleton's first two "Think" columns in Newspaper News, 1969
  178. Singo and Howard on Ballet
  179. Product innovation comes first
  180. Protect who from a 'mindless' wife?
  181. A party is born
  182. Tiny Workers' Party gives us a hint
  183. John Singleton on the ad industry, consumerism and innovation
  184. Workers Party Economic Policy Statement, December 1975
  185. Lang Hancock on the Workers Party, secession and States Rights
  186. John Singleton and Howard on Government Largesse
  187. Counterculture must exclude government handouts
  188. John Singleton's 1974 Federal Liberal Election Campaign Ads
  189. John Singleton believes in the Workers Party
  190. Write-up of John Singleton's 1978 speech to the Australian Liberal Students Association
  191. Singo in 1987: "Joh doesn't go far enough ... I want absolute deregulation of the economy"
  192. Maxwell Newton chapter of Clyde Packer's No Return Ticket (1984)
  193. Singo and Howard on Totalitarian Socialism and Voluntary Socialism
  194. Rip Van Australia on Ripoff Vandals Taxing Australia
  195. Singo and Howard beg for tolerance
  196. John Singleton's 1985 advertising comeback
  197. Singo and Howard Demand End to Public Transport
  198. John Singleton and Howard on Fred Nile, Festival of Light, FamilyVoice Australia and the Christian Lobby
  199. Capitalism: Survival of the Fittest
  200. Return Australia Post to Sender
  201. Singo and Howard on Public Utilities
  202. John Singleton and Howard say monarchy should be funded by monarchists alone
  203. John Singleton on cigarette advertising
  204. Singo in 1972 on newspapers' demise
  205. John Singleton farewells Bryce Courtenay
  206. John Singleton on Australian political advertising in 1972
  207. Gortlam rides again
  208. Announcement that Lang Hancock will be guest of honour at the Workers Party launch
  209. John Singleton on trading stamps, idiot housewives and government
  210. 1975 John Singleton-Sir Robert Askin Quadrant Interview
  211. Singo asks two prickly questions
  213. Why John Singleton can't keep a straight face
  214. Why John Singleton Defends Smokers Rights
  215. Tony Dear on Paul Krutulis, the Workers Party and murder
  216. An Ode to Busybodies
  217. Progress Party and Workers Party lead The Australian
  218. How many tits in a tangle?
  219. Viv Forbes in 1978 on loss-making government, the Berlin Wall and misdirected blasts of hot-air
  220. John Singleton wants the Post Office sold and anti-discrimination legislation scrapped
  221. A speech from the Titanic
  222. A crime must have a victim
  223. John Singleton vs Australia Post
  224. Minimum wages the killer
  225. Has Fraser got his priorities all wrong?
  226. John Singleton says "the royal family should be flogged off to the U.S."
  227. John Singleton vs Don Chipp and the Australian Democrats
  228. John Singleton vs Don Lane
  229. John Singleton. Horseracing. Why?
  230. John Singleton's 1986 reflection on the Workers Party
  231. Bob Howard in 1978 on libertarianism in Australia
  232. John Singleton on the stupidity of anti-discrimination laws
  233. Thou shalt know the facts ... before thou shoot off thou mouth
  234. Charity: An Aesop Fable
  235. Bob Howard announces the Workers Party in freeEnterprise
  236. New improved moon
  237. Announcing people ... YES, people!
  238. Creativity in advertising must be pointed dead on target
  239. John Singleton on barriers to, and opportunities for, effective communication
  240. Wayne Garland on John Singleton on Advertising
  241. John Singleton schools ad course
  242. John Singleton: advertising awards
  243. Mr Singleton Goes to Canberra for Australian Playboy
  244. John Singleton on his TV career for Australian Playboy
  245. John Singleton sacked for telling the truth about Medicare
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