“Bait-and-Switch” laws with the intent of protecting consumers from
unscrupulous merchants who advertise sales to “bait” consumers into
visiting their establishment without the intention of actually selling
them the sale goods but who instead intend to pull a “switch” on
them by claiming that the advertised product is out of stock or
that another, more expensive item, would be to their advantage.
Like most anti-capitalistic
ideas, “bait-and-switch” is most often employed as a political tag.
In this case, to identify people who have sold the public one bag
of goods and then substituted another in its place. Not that its
codification into law hasn’t had its impact on the business world;
besides providing a fertile ground for litigation, these laws have
resulted in the defensive willingness of businesses to offer “rain
checks” to customers seeking an advertised special which has run
out of stock. Whether or not these laws have lessened the willingness
of businesses to offer specials to the public for fear of underestimating
the demand and being stuck with big losses down the line I’ll leave
it to the reader to decide.
paleolibertarians reject bait-and switch laws as not only unnecessary
and intrusive into the natural relationship between businesses and
consumers, but also as demeaning to the consumer who is implicitly
denied the ability to decide for himself whether or not to purchase
a product or to weigh the risk of taking the time to go to a big
sale but finding the product to be out of stock. These laws are
also demeaning to the business-person who is to be seen in the Marxian
light as an exploiter instead of the great benefactor he really
is and who is also thereby denied the ability to creatively meet
consumer risk-aversion to taking the time to visit his store but
not being able to actually buy the advertised product.
But even though
bait-and-switch has little relevance to the business world, the
term certainly is very useful for identifying certain facts in the
political realm. In fact, I would argue that this is the only sense
in which the term has any use at all.
this, there’s a massive bait-and-switch going on in the current
world by which a majority of U.S. citizens are being exploited and
which needs to be pointed out to those of us who haven’t taken note.
to both the U.S. public and the world-at-large via the UN, the war
against Iraq was posed as a means to eliminate Iraq’s WMD, which
although the UN weapons inspectors were unable to locate, the Bush
administration somehow knew Iraq was hiding. No matter what facilities
the Iraqi’s opened to the inspection team, and what evidence could
be marshaled that Saddam no longer had any WMD, Iraq was till deemed
by the Bush administration to be in “non-compliance” with UN mandate
1441 and subject to the use of force.
For many of
us, the writing was already on the wall. Short of publicly hanging
himself, Saddam could do nothing to fend off an attack by the U.S.
No matter what compliance he offered, Iraq was going to be attacked
(North Korea has also taken
notice of the Bush modus operandi).
Bush gave Iraq his final ultimatum ultimatum, the UN pulled out
of the country, and the attack commenced.
But right off
the bat, red flags came waving. Why term the attack the Orwellian
“Operation Iraqi Freedom” if its purpose was to divest Iraq of its
WMD? The attack was not posed to the citizens of the U.S. or the
world as a means of freeing the Iraqi people, it was to protect
the world from Iraq’s WMD.
Then the false
alarms came. Supposedly, early on in the attack, coalition troops
had found a chemical weapons plant; but it turned out to be nothing.
Later, boxes of chemical weapon antidote were discovered at a hospital;
but the antidote turned out to be gunpowder. News reports spoke
of a 50-mile “red-line” around Baghdad, which marked the region
within which Iraqi troops were authorized to use chemical weapons;
but nothing of the sort happened.
The Bush administration
downplayed all of these false alarms. It was enough for them to
repeat the evil that Saddam represented and the future the people
of Iraq will have once liberated.
the press made the same mistake in reporting these false alarms
that the rest of the nation did: they took the Bush administration
at its word.
Make no mistake
(to use a favorite phrase of our Chief), we were sold one bag of
goods but ended-up buying another. Whatever the Neocons ultimate
goal this war is a means to, we now know it wasn’t elimination of
Iraq’s WMD. We know this because, simply put, they don’t have any,
or if they do, they are of little consequence and they thus far
haven’t used them even when pushed to the brink. And this wasn’t
just an honest mistake: the CIA, IAEA, and UNSCOM, by way of information
provided by a high-placed military defector from Iraq, had a pretty
good idea that Saddam had no WMD of any significance left after
1995. We also know Iraq was no military threat because the vaunted
forces of Saddam’s Republican Guard folded like an army-issued pup-tent
and have vanished from the scene. What the U.S. faces now in Baghdad
is guerilla warfare waged by the shattered remnants of the Guard
and the people of Baghdad themselves.
that the sheepish American public appears to be content with the
substitute bag of goods Bush has provided them. In lieu of a disarmed
Iraq we get an occupied Iraq. In lieu of our rights being protected
we get more rights restrictions. In lieu of peace abroad we get
increased Islamic radicalism and hatred of the United States.
If I were a
consumer-rights activist I would now be giving it my best shot to
force the passage of voter protection laws designed to protect the
voters from nefarious politicians like Bush and the Neocons.
there can be no bait-and-switch laws with regard to the State. Who
is to protect us from the protector? The only reprisal we have as
voters for receiving a bag of goods (such as perpetual war for peace)
we didn’t want in lieu of what we paid for (rights-respecting and
protecting limited government) is to vote the perps out of office.
The only problem being that a new group of perps takes their place.
If there is
a lesson to be drawn for all of this, it is that the biggest bait-and-switch
of all time is the idea of limited government. At one time there
was reason to be optimistic that such an endeavor could prove successful.
History, and particularly the history of the United States, has
taught us different. If only enough of us would take note, perhaps
the usefulness of the term “bait-and switch” to signify anything
could be relegated, along with the ability of nation-states to make
war on each other, to the dustbin of history.
Stearns [send him mail] writes
from Portland, Oregon.