“Keep Your Barcode Scanner off My Merchandise” | The AppsLab

Spacetart pointed me at this in the context of “Perfect Information” and it is a vital element of the mix. Although we can expect to see RFID take over from barcodes in the next few years, the principles are the same.

Anyone with a handheld device, like a mobile phone, will (or rather “should”) in a “Perfect Information” environment, be able to scan the code on any product and obtain all and any information about that product that they’ve indicated a preference for.

I, for example, would want to see the costs of production and distribution, including the so-called “external costs” (such as carbon footprint and other damage to the environment). I’d like to see how the price I’m about to pay (if I choose the product) is allocated among those responsible for bringing the product to me – from the labourers who produced the product, through to the shelf stackers who arranged it in front of me and up to the shareholders who will pocket the profit from the sale.

I want to know what’s in the product and, if I’m new to the product, I might want to know how other consumers rated the product.

All we need to drive that access to information (other, of course, than retailers being willing – or persuaded by market forces – to comply by making the information available) is a code on the product which point’s to its place in an indexed database which in turn links us to all the related data. And, for that code to be readable by devices we carry about with us all the time.

All the pieces of the jigsaw are now available. We just need to persuade the retail trade to buy into this new paradigm.

Why Opting Out Is No “Third Way” – Reason Magazine

Wilkinson is correct, in that Paternalism, however well intentioned, is not (and can never be) Libertarian. It is, in fact, merely idealised “Platonism” and based on the notion that we can have, “in charge” of “nudging” some benevolent “Philosopher King” (or Philosopher Committee) which will instigate “wise and humane manipulations” to the “choice architecture” which will result in the “bewildered herd” making more rational choices. However, he misses the opportunity to indicate what WOULD have the desired effect, viz “Perfect Information”.

“Perfect Information” is an academic construct with a painfully limited definition. To the average economist it means no more than every supplier and potential consumer knowing what goods and services are available in the marketplace and what prices are being charged for same. Capitalism has been built almost entirely on that premise. To the arch Capitalist, “Perfect Information” is whatever it takes to get the customer to buy (all the positive stuff) and, as little as possible about any negatives. If they don’t always lie, they will always provide minimum rather than maximum data.

This attitude lies at the heart of every major financial crisis we have witnessed in the past 30 years and probably all others. In short, Capitalists feel free to hide the facts about what they are doing. Indeed, they build laws which preserve their right to “commercial confidentiality” into the trading system.

Hence, for example, no one actually knew what they were buying when they were buying up all the bad debt packages containing hidden subprime loans. Similarly, no one knew, when they bought Nike trainers that they were being produced under sweat shop conditions in the 3rd world. No one knew, when they bought their coffee at Starbucks, that the coffee plantations were paid less than the cost of production and trapped in a cycle of poverty, at the behest of the IMF (and it’s Chicago economic philosophy) and that the workers were often starving kids. And so on.

If we really want “choice architecture” to work and allow free and INFORMED consent to be the basis of commercial decisions, then we all need – at least the option of – access to genuine “Perfect Information”. Which means no more “commercial confidentiality” regarding any of the issues which should influence our choices. In future, we want to know where the goods have come from, what external costs were incurred, how the production and distribution chain were rewarded for their part in the process and how much net profit goes to the merchant selling us the goods on the day. THEN we can make truly rational choices.

This will not solve the problem that the Paternalists are addressing because the vast majority of consumers will not bother availing themselves of the relevant data. BUT the thinking and campaigning consumers will. And they will gradually lead the rest of the bewildered herd in a more rational direction. That is probably about as good as it can get, while still being a genuine libertarian economy and society…

Could we actually make Free Market Capitalism Humane?

What with mainstream bands allowing “buyers” to pay what they like for their albums, and restaurants allowing their diners to pay what they think the meal is worth, what we’re seeing is the birth pangs of a new capitalist paradigm – where we trust the consumer to recognise and reward merit. Will it catch on? I hope so.

It dovetails nicely with a proposal I’m working on, which is to improve the free-market economic model by insisting on complete disclosure. Wot that mean?

It means when you buy a bag of coffee beans, or a bottle of milk, or whatever, you can see – at a glance – what it cost to produce, to distribute, to package, to market and retail etc. You can see what share the producer gets from the price, what goes to the distributor and what profit the retailer is left with after all that attribution. You can see what carbon (or other environmental) cost is incurred and, of course, you can still see all the standard nutritional and safety data etc.

All this data will either be displayed where possible, on the packaging, or at least the shelving. If that’s not practical it must at least display a web address where we can browse the info at our leisure and/or a bluetooth (or equivalent) download we can import to our mobile phones.

The point? To provide what the economists call “perfect information” which is what they claim the consumers and producers need in order to run a perfect free market. Trouble is, up to now, their vision of what constitutes “perfect information” has been decidedly limited and one sided. The producers and retailers always know about our side of the equation but the only economic data they let us in on is the price.

But price is not enough information for the modern intelligent consumer to base their decisions upon. I (and, I’m sure, millions of other consumers) want to know who exactly is getting the benefit of my purchase. For example, I want to know that no workers or producers are being exploited on my behalf. For another example, all other factors being equal, I will choose the product with least carbon cost. And so on. Put these two ideas together – Consumer voluntary pricing and Perfect Information and we have no less than a revolution within capitalism itself.

I think it might indeed even make Capitalism humane. Not only that, it will automatically “democratise” those social choices represented by market choices. People will vote with their cash.

From here on in, I’m going to add a “Perfect Information” tag to any relevant stumbles and add my two-pennorth to explain how I think they support or, at least, illustrate my point. Here (used to be [update 2014]) the link to what should become a growing list of “Perfect Information” tagged sites (unfortunately that’s one of the things deliberately fucked up by Stumbleupon and although the material is still there it’s no longer possible to find it – which is why I’m now here on WP). You are, of course, perfectly free to use the tag yourself, but if you do, may I ask a favour? Send me the link. Not to the relevant story, but to your comment on it and how or why you think it supports (or refutes) the “Perfect Information” Proposal.

The Conflicted Consumer | | AlterNet


The major rationalisation for “free market capitalism” is based on the myths of what economists call “perfect competition” and “perfect information”, neither of which exist in the real world. I am composing a detailed analysis of this which isn’t yet ready for publication but I’d like to share one of the ideas I’ve come up with.

In short, the rationale for free market capitalism would work IF we really did have “perfect information”. In other words, if we knew EVERYTHING about the products on offer, we could make intelligent and ETHICAL choices about which ones we wanted to buy.

Capitalists and economists pretend that (almost) the only thing that determines our choices is price. This is naive simplistic nonsense. It is only true for the poorest buyers in the market whose budget does not permit other factors to intrude. Once you can afford, for example, to base your choice on quality rather than price, you are also able (and increasingly willing) to consider other factors, such as the ecological cost of the product and the share of the profit which goes to the workers who created it.

The kind of question I would want to ask, for example, in choosing between coffee beans, is “How much money do the farmer and bean pickers make?”, “How much money do the workers selling me this product make?” as well as “What are the environmental costs?” and so on. My gut feeling is that the first chain of superstores who start displaying that sort of information (or at least making it available, for those who care, on their websites) will quickly attract a large percentage of the “ethical buyers” in the market place. And I suspect that those “ethical buyers” are a large and growing minority of the market place.