Are All TV Commercials Aimed at Ignorance?

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Pretty much everyone knows—or should know—that many, and maybe most, of the points made by most politicians are of little value, amounting to little more than equine feces at best. A commercial I saw the other day illustrated that the same is true of TV commercials. (Yes, I realize that’s no discovery. But still…) The advertisement I saw featured a clean-cut young man making a pitch to “buy American-made gasoline at Kwik Fill” because doing so “strengthens our economy.” Do people believe that type of thing? The short answer is:  Yes. How do I know? Because presidents—and presidential candidates—have been saying pretty much the same thing for close to 4 decades, beginning with Nixon and continuing right up through Obama.

Rachel Maddow—not exactly a standard-bearer for libertarian ideals and the power of the free market—demolished this lunacy on her show, and the episode is immortalized on YouTube, under the appropriate title, “Oil Is Oil Is Oil.” There is no such thing as “foreign” oil and there is no such thing as “domestic” oil. There is no way to purchase oil from domestic sources or that “benefits Americans only.” Maddow covers many valid points in the video—which is recommended viewing—but in economics-speak, oil is fungible. As such, the concept of energy independence by lessening the U.S. dependence on foreign oil is just the same old jingoistic bird cage liner scrapings. All oil is sold on an international market and all oil is purchased from that same place. Which service station you use is largely irrelevant.

Admittedly, Maddow makes a couple points with which I disagree, most notably in her suggestion that we can affect positive change by lessening our overall dependence on oil. To that suggestion, my response would be “Why?” To what purpose should we—users of energy—attempt to cut back on our usage of energy? To what purpose should we—people who benefit from all manner of conveniences due directly to the technology of fossil fuels—attempt to change our ways? I can only assume that Maddow believes, like many liberals, and many conservatives, that the consumer should react to policy concerns versus market signals. If oil is the cheapest alternative, then the consumer should continue to buy it, period. If, and when, oil becomes so rare as to not be the cheapest alternative (and/or the best technological alternative) the costs should reflect it, and we consumers will move on to something else. (The costs will reflect it, unless the government gets in the way.) The problem is not over-dependence on oil. The problem is lack of understanding of basic economics, the market, and the ramifications of supply and demand.

Of more concern to me, and maybe more importance, is this: If this type of obviously-flawed economics thinking, as evidenced by that commercial, has pervaded presidential talking points for forty years and continues to pervade TV advertising even now, how much more horribly flawed information continues to flow unabated?

Bottom Line: I guess they don’t call it the idiot box for nothing.

7:46 pm on January 8, 2012
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