(Tom Toles)
Editorial cartoonist

In this era of laissez faire, Ayn Rand, Deus Libertarianus and golden calves, consumer preference has been not only part of the discussion but often the whole of it.

How American culture became more or less synonymous with consumer culture is a question for historians to grapple with, but here we are, and we are lost. Sometimes consumers choose badly. Either for themselves or for the rest of us. Who’s to say whether consumers are choosing badly? This question is designed to stop you in your tracks. No one is allowed to second-guess anyone when their wallet is out. Well, at the risk of violating the libertarian version of political correctness, let me second-guess some consumer preferences.

I’d say that when Mediterranean kids go from healthy to obese, somebody is making some genuinely terrible decisions.

I’d say the same about the so-called consumer preference for carbon-polluting vehicles. We are supposed to stand back in quiet respect when someone says consumers want less-efficient vehicles. Really?  Do they want higher-emitting vehicles if it means a ruined climate? Did that question get asked? Do European parents prefer to sign their kids up for a lifetime of obesity-related health issues? Did the marketplace ask this question? Does the marketplace EVER ask the full question?

Incomplete questions will often get you very bad answers. Do you like driving faster? Do you like jaywalking?

This “consumer preference” matrix has been established as the gold standard of public discourse by the marketeers who receive the gold from it. It has yielded a badly undernourished form of public discourse, designed to appeal to consumers’ love of sweet and fatty ideas at the expense of exercising any longer-term thought or better judgment.

And what do you know? After having been raised on this low-nutrition set of facile ideas, we find ourselves out of shape and lacking resistance when a formerly mild affliction like populist authoritarianism gets into our system.