States enact “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.
Naturally, 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.
Having said 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.
Originally, 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).
Soon enough, 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.
Apparently, 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.
It’s unfortunate 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.
But unfortunately 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.
April 7, 2003