Ethos of Suckers
Like the myth of an eroding civility (our politics has been rife with incivility since the dawn of our Republic), people lament the death of critical thinking in American society. Critical thinking hasn’t died. Snake-oil salesmen and phony shamans have hawked their wares and services since the dawn of human history, and they’ve always found suckers willing to bite.
However, with universal public education, shouldn’t the population be more educated and thus warier of those things that seem too good to be true?
The short answer: Of course not.
A sizable percentage of people will always let their hopes and dreams and desires for an outcome outweigh their reason. A sizable percentage of people will always hang on to the belief that the focus of their desires and dreams will be the exception to the rule. Also, the television/print bias, where people assume that if something is on television or is in print that an expert authority vetted it, is as strong as ever.
Plus, it’s just plain easier to believe than to think.
In 2008, Obama voters believed that because of his soaring rhetoric, Obama would be excused from the normal realities and patterns of politics. These jaded souls are slowly coming to the realization that candidate-Obama sold them, and in all probability himself (“You know, I actually believe my own bull****.”), a false bill of goods.
In the category of the television bias, many people believe that because a device or gizmo has a great infomercial, that this device will cause their bodies to defy the normal laws of biology.
According to a blog post on the Federal Trade Commission’s website, the Ab Circle Pro is one of these gizmos:
The marketers claimed that using the device for just three minutes a day would lead to a 10-pound weight loss in two weeks and inches off the stomach, hips, and thighs — benefits equal to or better than longer workouts at the gym.
The details are even more outlandish:
- “In fact, with the Ab Circle Pro System, we guarantee you’ll lose ten pounds in just two weeks or your money back.“
- “Best of all, it’s fun and easy and takes just three minutes a day.“
- “Burns Fat Faster than Treadmill!“
- “You can either do 30 minutes of abs and cardio or just three minutes a day. The choice is yours.”
Most people who see a claim like this roll their eyes and walk away, dismissing it like they would dismiss an insistent child’s claim that he saw the tooth fairy.
But what about those people who fall for such claims and pay money for them? Has overregulation of products made people even more susceptible to false advertising because the meme of universal government oversight makes individuals lazy thinkers? Moreover, who is responsible when people like these face negative consequences for their lack of cynicism?
In response to this blatant chicanery, the Federal Trade Commission filed suit against the makers of the Ab Circle Pro System and reached a settlement. The FTC is a part of the federal government, which means taxpayer dollars fund it. This means you and I are paying for the lawyers who “protected” consumers that many of us would agree should have seen it coming.
The settlement offers something for consumers and businesses: refunds totaling between $15 million and $25 million for people who bought the Ab Circle Pro and important compliance tips for companies.
What does the settlement offer taxpayers? People pay taxes to government to pool funds and centralize responsibilities with community-wide implications, not to support the legal fund of Ab-Circle-Pro-Suckers Anonymous.
Everyone takes a chance on a new product from time-to-time, finds that it doesn’t meet their expectations, and either works within the company’s refund policy to get their money back or doesn’t repeat the mistake.
This particular episode is a microcosm of the mentality that led to people buying homes they couldn’t afford and then expecting to be bailed out when they went under. The fiscal collapse of 2008 was a huge corrective to the mentalities of both irresponsible lenders and irresponsible borrowers (exception: irresponsible politicians).
Lack of critical thinking is quickly solved with an abundance of consequence.
Ironically, the politicians who put this system in place get to announce “Look what we did for you!”, presenting the illusion that they provided a great service at no cost, the very same false advertising that they just filed suit against.
Just remember: The individuals who fell for the load of baloney, spent their money on it, then got bailed out by yours and my donations to the FTC’s lawyers, are going to get to vote again this November.
Who’s going to bail out the rest of us from their next bad decision?