Superstition and the free market

These days, several local TV channels here in Mumbai show advertisements for trinkets, bracelets, necklaces, armbands and what not with mystical powers. Usually these advertisements are preceded with a disclaimer stating that the channel does not take any responsibility for the claims made in the advertisements. I suppose most rational people would be disgusted by this and would be indignant at the channels and the swindlers who make such “products”. I cannot help feeling disgust myself but this is merely the free market at work and it is all for the good. There is a large number of people who are superstitious and desperate enough to try out these things and it is inevitable that someone will cater to them. The beauty of the free market is that it “works” even when the participants in the market are irrational. Whatever one may think of the swindlers and the channels involved, the free market (in this case) transfers money from superstitious fools to more rational people. That is good. And as more and more such “entrepreneurs” step into the market, the ineffectiveness of their “products” becomes easier to see. That is good too. Perhaps some fools will come to their senses after burning their fingers. That is good too. Those who don’t deserve to lose their money. That is justice. And the free market achieves this without coercion and without the altruism involved in activist efforts to reform people. Leave men free to deal with reality on their own terms and you have freedom, justice, efficiency and progress.

Consider the opposite where a government tries to regulate and restrict the sale of such “products”. Who pays for the government’s efforts? The rational tax payers. Who benefits? The superstitious fools. The net result? Money is transferred from the productive rational people to superstitious fools. Virtue is penalised and stupidity is protected. Can one imagine injustice worse than this? The only thing that can justify this is the miserable doctrine of altruism. Prevent men from dealing with reality on their own terms and you have bureaucracy, injustice and inefficiency.


3 Responses

  1. Good post. I just put it on my profile on facebook.

  2. Depending on the way these products are advertised, they may constitute fraud and would therefore not be permitted under capitalism. If an ad says “This trinket will cure you of AIDS,” I believe that is fraud and the sellers of the product should go to jail. If, on the other hand, they claim “This trinket will stimulate mystical forces to bring you good luck,” I believe that is not fraud because it is not demonstrably false. You could also claim something like “This African witch-doctor believes this trinket will cure AIDS, so buy it,” and that would also not technically be fraud. It benefits the productive as well as the irrational to crack down on fraud, but you’re right that stupid should be left alone to do what it will.

  3. I believe that is fraud and the sellers of the product should go to jail.
    Only if someone complains in a court of law and wins a case. Not by the government proactively engaging in regulation.

    Besides, all the ads I have seen offer a full refund if their claims are not met. Obviously they make a tidy profit even after any refunds that they might have to make given their negligible costs of production.

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