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Podcast episode

Advertising & surveillance capitalism w/ John August – EP144

What does economics have to say about the huge amount of advertising directed at us everyday, much of it specifically targeted in this age of surveillance capitalism? Is it informative, manipulative, or something else? Should governments do anything about it and regulate advertisers and surveillance capitalists such as Google, Facebook, and other big tech companies? EP144 of Economics Explored features a frank and fearless conversation on advertising touching on surveillance capitalism with John August, Treasurer of the Pirate Party Australia. 

You can listen to the conversation using the embedded player below or via Google PodcastsApple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher, among other podcast apps.

About this episode’s guest – John August

John August is the Treasurer of the Pirate Party Australia. John does computer support work in retail and shareholder communication. He is passionate about justice and ethics in our world, particularly as it plays out in law generally and intellectual property in particular. He has stood on behalf of the Pirate Party in the Federal seat of Bennelong and also as a Councillor for Ryde City Council.

Along with technology and law John is also interested in spoken word and poetry. He broadcasts on community radio and hosts the program “Roving Spotlight” on Tuesdays from noon-2pm on Radio Skid Row Marrickville Sydney, and writes about his ideas on the website www.johnaugust.com.au. You can keep up to date with what John is up to via his Facebook page

Links relevant to the conversation

Kyle Bagwell’s superb monograph on the economics of advertising:

https://academiccommons.columbia.edu/doi/10.7916/D8TB1K1S/download

Talk on the Age of Distraction John mentions:

https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/age-of-distraction/6535850

Bureau of Meteorology Online Advertising Policy

New search engine which doesn’t serve you ads or track you:

https://neeva.com/

EconTalk episode Gene mentions:

Sridhar Ramaswamy on Google, Search, and Neeva – Econlib

• Facebook ad revenue 2009-2020 | Statista

Chicago-School-type perspective on advertising:

Drop the opposition: Advertising benefits us all

Originator of the term positional goods:

Fred Hirsch – Social Limits to Growth

Thorsten Veblen’s classic of economics:

The Theory of the Leisure Class – Wikipedia

Episode 22 of the show on hipster antitrust: 

Antitrust & “Hipster Trustbusters” with Danielle Wood from Grattan (NB The show name has been change since then to avoid a clash with a popular YouTube channel)

Episode 21 of the show on surveillance capitalism:

Surveillance Capitalism with Darren Brady Nelson

Deloitte report for advertising industry body mentioned by Gene:

Advertising Pays | Deloitte Australia | Deloitte Access Economics, TMT, Communications

Hotelling’s paradox (or law) mentioned by John: 

Hotelling’s law – Wikipedia
“Hotelling’s law is an observation in economics that in many markets it is rational for producers to make their products as similar as possible. This is also referred to as the principle of minimum differentiation as well as Hotelling’s linear city model.”

Links re. permission marketing: 

https://www.akimbo.com/

Transcript of EP144: Advertising and surveillance capitalism w/ John August

N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording.

Gene Tunny  00:01

Coming up on Economics Explored…

John August  00:04

I’m thinking your Facebook running around saying, oh, you know, we want our customers to be happy and I’m thinking, no, we just cannot take their word for it. They have form; you just cannot take their word for it.

Gene Tunny  00:17

Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host, Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist based in Brisbane, Australia, and I’m a former Australian Treasury official. This is episode 144, on Advertising and Surveillance Capitalism.

My guest this episode is John August, Treasurer of the Pirate Party Australia. This is John’s second appearance on the show. And you may recall he was on last month. I wouldn’t normally have someone on the show again so soon. But John was passing through Brisbane, and we both thought it would be great to catch up for a conversation.

In this episode, you’ll learn what Economics has to say about advertising. Alas, we can’t say that all advertising is informative. Some of it is informative for sure, and it is good for consumers. Some of it is complimentary, in that it augments products that we consume with social prestige, which is fair enough if you’re after that sort of thing. But some advertising is purely persuasive or manipulative, and arguably wasteful or have dubious social value.

What does this all mean for public policy? John and I discussed this in this episode. In the show notes, you can find relevant links, any clarifications, and you’ll also find details of how you can get in touch with any comments or suggestions. If there are topics you’d like me to cover on the show, then please get in touch and let me know. I’d really love to hear from you.

One clarification I need to make relates to the Chicago School view of Advertising. Chicago school economists historically were associated with the informative view, as I noted in the episode, but there were some Chicago economists, such as Gary Becker, who could be considered to have had the complimentary view. There’s a large economic literature on advertising. And in the show notes, you’ll find a link to a monograph by Stanford professor, Carl Bagwell, which brilliantly summarizes all of that literature. So, please check that out.

Right oh! Now for my conversation with John August on Advertising and Surveillance Capitalism. Thanks to my audio engineer, Josh Crotts, for his assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it.

John August, welcome back on to the programme.

John August  02:31

Yes, thank you, Gene. I’m actually live, rather than on the phone or zoom or whatever this time. So, there you go. I was passing through Brisbane and thought I would say hello. And here I am.

Gene Tunny  02:43

Yes, of course. It’s good to have you in my ad hoc studio here in Spring Hill, in Brisbane. I’m keen to chat about some of the issues that we’ve chatted about after and in before; various conversations.

I spoke with you on this show several weeks ago about the Pirate party’s economic policy platform. And then, we had a conversation on your radio show, Skid Row radio; Skid Row?

John August 

That’s correct.

Gene Tunny 

At Merryville in Sydney. One of the things you mentioned was that you’ve got some views on advertising. I thought this would be a good conversation to have, because I’m reasonably well; I have been familiar with the literature on advertising in the past, and it was good for the economic literature. And I was good to sort of, look back over that because there’s a big debate in Economics about just whether advertising is useful, or is it wasteful? To what extent is it? Is it socially beneficial? So, I’d like to have that conversation with you.

Would you be able to begin please, John. Just going through what your thoughts are on advertising? I mean, what’s your perspective on this? You appear to have some strong views on advertising?

John August  04:08

First off, I will say, there are some parts of advertising might be labelled as good, but I guess, in the world in which we live, it’s sort of dominated by, I guess, the bad end of advertising. And also, there’s some promises of advertising, which I guess don’t make sense when you look at it more carefully in terms of advertising being more emotionally manipulative, rather than it being informational.

But you know, with the Pirate Party, we celebrate the sovereignty of the individual. And you know, worry about people who are violating that sovereignty. So, the Pirate Party is also socially progressive in its way. I don’t think we’re like you know, the guy sitting on the veranda with a shotgun and the alligators in the moat, you know, that sort of thing. But we certainly sort of say, what is interfering with our ability to live out our everyday lives?

Now, there was a US gentleman, I think, who gave a talk, called the Age of Distraction; it was broadcasted on ABC Radio, national. I think was the Royal Society for the arts. And he was talking about just how many parts of our lives, there are now signs, you know, they’re signs that you go to the airport, there’re signs on your shopping trolley. Even in the US, there are schools that have report cards, and they’re putting advertising on the report cards.

Gene Tunny 

Seriously?

John August 

Yeah. This is a sort of thing that happens; obviously, let’s just say in the US, we all imagine, and it’s perhaps true that there are some excesses that happened in the US that wouldn’t happen elsewhere. But, you know, the comment this guy was making is that there used to be, the two classes; the wealthy who had a lot of freedom, and the less wealthy who didn’t. And now you have a situation where us plebs will go to the airport, and we’ll have all this advertising. But if you’re wealthy, you go to the Executive Lounge, where the luxury of the executive lounge is, you can sit there, you can make your choices, and not be advertised to.

And, you know, one of my fellows in the Pirate Party, he says that, compared to previous generations, we are one of the generations that have been shouted at the most, of any generation. And there’s a; I guess, the thing about the enclosures enclosing the land in the UK, and saying that the commons are being basically grabbed away from us, and claimed by corporations, because there’s the public square and certain, I guess, social understandings about us going out in the public square and being respectful, and that advertisers are not being respectful.

Now, I suppose I’m sort of thinking that there are; I will talk about what you might call the good advertising, which is actually a tiny part of the total advertising that we are subjected to. And people might say, oh, you know, this is exotic aberrant stuff. But I think, you know, your junk mail, your spam. I mean, that is the world in which we live in, it’s very artificial to partition that often say, Oh, well, that’s not the real economy, that’s people doing stupid things.

So, that is part of it. The fact that people are yelling at us, the fact that so much of our space has been taken over. Now, when I talk about the good end of advertising, classifieds, in the ideal, they are close to information, not manipulation. And that’s what you might call the good end of advertising. And the thing about what you might call good advertising is, it’s initiated by the consumer.

Now, let’s say, who knows? maybe there’s a local rag that’s pushed into your letterbox without your permission. So, there’s a very first step where something is pushed at you. But after that, if you engage with this material, you as a consumer are taking the initiative, and checking these things out as a personal choice. Now, 90% of advertising, I think of what we might loosely call the advertising is someone trying to get into your space, get in your face without your permission, right?

I agree that at one end, you do have advertising as the ideal of information, information that helps us make our choices. Classified, sort of, do that, to some degree when we go out on the internet. And I won’t mention any names. But let’s say websites by which you can sell stuff and you have made that choice, I want to buy something, I’m going to go to a website where you can buy stuff. You know, again, that’s the element of personal choice.

Now, some of these websites, do have relative monopoly power, right? So, they’re perhaps, abusing this situation in terms of being a monopoly. But they’re not abusing their situation in terms of getting into your face without your permission, or endorsement. So, there’s something going on there. But then, at the other end of the scale with advertising, it’s very emotionally manipulative.

The thing is, Mark Givens, one of my colleagues in the Pirate Party, he talks about, that a lot of advertising is trying to say that you are deficient in some way. And this thing that we’re selling will help you.

Now notice, if you are engaging with advertising, I mean, if you’re engaging with classifieds, you think I need this thing for my own reasons. I’m going to go out and find out how I might realize that, that’s cool. But, you know, Mark is saying, that we go out in the outside world, and it’s like, everyone’s taking a cheap shot at you. They’re trying to say how you are deficient and this product will help you.

There’s also in marketing, the idea that that’s the fear of missing out, they don’t say, look, maybe you have a problem, here’s what we have, maybe this will help. It’s a lot more doggedly, emotionally manipulative than that. And it’s trying to say, you know, if you don’t do these bad things will happen; you know, the fear of missing out. That’s more of the emotional leverage that is applied. Or maybe they’re saying that you’re deficient in some way, not sufficiently attractive, but, you know, consume this product and you will be attractive, you will be popular, you will be this.

You know, even some of the things that are a little bit less narky, like, go on, you deserve it. You know,  at least, that’s not trying to say that you’re negative or whatever. But you know, one of the amazing things is like, you can go through advertising and be sold messages that you’re in control. And yet, you’re not in control of the fact that you’re being exposed to the advertising that is being pressed on you.

But then, I think it was Galbraith, who was saying there are some fundamental contradictions with advertising and that the ideal of advertising is that, we have our desires, we go out into the marketplace, we’re exposed to advertising which informs us of our options for realizing our desires. But in fact, he says that a lot of advertising is actually about shaping our desires, not informing us of our possibilities for our desires.

Encapsulating the world in which we live, people are shouting as we never were before. Now, certainly, there’s some abuse of monopoly power, there’s weird stuff going on in the internet, attention becoming a contested commodity. And those are sort, of turning into perverse outcomes, because, okay, this is going one step removed from advertising as such, but people talk about clickbait. Okay, clickbait it’s a thing, but turn back the clock, two or three decades, and they were the page one headlines on the tabloids. And in a sense, what we’re experienced now with clickbait, it really has a precursor going back a few decades with the page one tabloid headlines to try to draw you in.

So, what we’re experiencing now with a technological version of the page, one tabloid headlines. So, also, I suppose, that’s advertising broadly speaking, there’s spam, there’s junk mail. And I think in Victoria, I think you can actually put up a ‘No Junk Mail’ sign in the letterbox and actually mean something in New South Wales that doesn’t have any legal teeth. And I do think a lot of government policy is a result of lobbying by vested interests. But yeah, my understanding is in Victoria, those signs mean something in New South Wales, they do not; I don’t know if this situation is in Queensland, but having control of yourself.

So, what I guess I’m trying to say is, there’s a little bit of advertising that might be legitimately said to be positive, but it is overwhelmed by the stuff that is outright dodgy, junk mail and spam, or emotionally manipulative, or basically getting in your face and yelling at you, where, you know, we’re being denied, I guess, that the public space is no longer a place where you can walk along and think and contemplate and reflect on life. It’s being polluted and tainted by all these impacts.

And, you know, the economy, in its regular under things, doesn’t respect these things, doesn’t value these things, doesn’t value sovereignty. Hopefully, eventually I’ll finish my sort of sentiment, but there are things where like, the bus shelters where I’m at; the council has made a contract with someone to maintain the bus shelters so that the bus shelters are advertising. And I personally would rather pay higher rates and have a better-quality environment around me. But again, one might say the councils are under financial pressure, and there’s all this crazy stuff going on.

Some people even say that your state governments push responsibility on the councils; people get used to it, then they withdraw the funding and the councils are left in a difficult situation. So, there’s all this whirlpool of things going on there. But also, the Bureau of Meteorology website; I mean, there’s all these tertiary websites, but I believe in going right to the Bureau of Meteorology and saying what do they think the weather is going to be? And strange to say for me, that is almost a spiritual experience. It is consulting an oracle, what is the future going to be? And I do actually say our Bureau of Meteorology, they get it right there; they’re not doing too badly. You know, I suppose politically, for one or two days, they’re not doing too badly. And it’s a spiritual experience, but they have advertising on their website. And again, I would rather pay more taxes and have my relationship with official government entities like the Bureau of Meteorology have that untainted.

Gene Tunny 

It doesn’t have advertising, does it?

John August

The Bureau of Meteorology website with weather does actually have advertising. I believe it certainly did a few years ago. I wonder if they got rid of it. But yeah, it got the Bureau of Meteorology; goodness me, now that I think about it. All right. I may be corrected there. I know, they did have advertising a few years ago. That, I can say without reservation. Maybe they’ve sort of, reformed themselves in the meantime because of public pressure. But certainly, they used to have.

Gene Tunny  15:39

That’s okay, yeah. But I generally agree with you. I mean, yeah, it’s probably good to go to the BLM website. And it’s good to be undistracted by that advertising. I just want to pick up on a few of those things that you talked about; the bus shelters, I don’t have a problem with advertising at bus shelters, I can tune that out.

The point about advertising being emotionally manipulative, yes, there is a large amount of advertising like that. And we’ve had that for decades, we’ve had that all along. I remember when I was in high school, Clearasil was a big advertiser. And the message there was, well, if you don’t use Clearasil, you’ll get acne and you’ll never get a girlfriend. There’ll be a loser. So that seems to that’s very emotionally manipulative advertising addressed at teenagers. So, you won’t get a girlfriend, you won’t get a boyfriend or whatever. You’re very emotionally manipulated.

What I think is, what’s really very concerning in the last decade or so is the rise of surveillance capitalism. Do you have any thoughts on that, John? Because they’re just following us all around the web, and they know what we’re looking at. And then they can direct targeted ads. And it’s really disconcerting to many people like that poor woman, who didn’t she get marketed some baby products, they guess that she was pregnant before, or target sent her a letter, and then a dad read the letter and thought, What’s going on here? Are you pregnant? Target guess she was pregnant based on the search history.

John August  17:15

Now, yes, I do remember some stories of people who are pregnant, and the web managed to figure that out before they were able to, based on the changes in their behavior. So certainly, that is something that is disconcerting. And one might argue that targeted advertising is more stuff that you might be interested in. So, I guess the advertisers will try to say, look, this is the positive aspect of it is that you’re being presented with stuff you might be interested in. But equally remember the thing I was saying about choice, if you want something and you go out there, that’s; I guess, maybe it’s not even advertising, but it’s a positive mode of interaction, I guess you would say.

And yes, you’re talking about, surveillance capitalism, about people knowing stuff about us. And sometimes we’re disconcerted by it, you know, when you’ve been doing some search history here and there, and then suddenly, there’s advertisements pop up for this and you say, Hang on, you know, you have been watching what I’ve been up to, haven’t you. And you know, it is disconcerting, and the fact that people are sort of tracking us. And invariably, you go to a website, and it says, you know, click on OK to get X Y, Z. And I guess you sort of feel obliged to click on that, but you’re leaving a digital footprint, people are sort of figuring out your identity. And I mean, there are creepy things like, you know, shades of Philip K Dick and, and those sorts of weird science fiction stories where they say, if they have 400, Facebook likes, they can predict your behavior better than you can. And, that’s getting really creepy when you contemplate those sorts of things. Because look, this is getting into weird shit psychology. But maybe we are just a bundle of drives that sort of, lurch in certain directions. And maybe that is the reality, but for advertisers to I guess, grab ahold of that and do something with it. That’s even worse than that being true, you know. So, that’s certainly bad surveillance capitalism.

The thing is, this has grown without us realizing it. I guess there are some people who are saying, look, people can gather data without cost. And you know, the permission is very low. And I suppose in a sense, yes, if we were more concerned about this, and pushed back against all this internet stuff that is monitoring us, that would be a better outcome. At least, you know, I can talk about it, you can talk about it, we can try to draw attention to it. But I think it’s the old cliche of the boiled frog phenomenon. And even I think some scientists have actually said that it’s a myth that the whole boiled frog thing, but certainly things have happened. So gradually, I think the thing is, corporations have got, let’s say, a lot more intellectual, willpower, or whatever you might say, more willpower than us to like coordinate a situation and sort of figure out how can we actually prompt people to do stuff to surrender their information so that we can do something with it. While we’re just individuals as it were wandering through life almost with our eyes shut sort of thing. And, you know, we’re facing these corporations that are incredibly well resourced compared to us as individuals. And there’s a very strong power disparity there in terms of being able to process and make use of information.

Anyway, to try to answer your question, it is a concern. If only more people were more concerned about it, that will be better. At some level, governments do occasionally push back against this sort of thing. Now, advertising, surveillance capitalism is part of it. But you know, the thing that I guess has been more controversial is, are the social media companies, basically damaging people psychologically, in pursuit of more eyeball’s hours? That’s been more of a concern at government level rather than surveillance capitalism and advertising. And that sort of, related thing to what we’re talking about here.

Gene Tunny  21:22

Well, some of the companies are doing this to get advertising out, though. So, Facebook, for example, I mean, Facebook earns, what is it? I mean, $115 Billion US in advertising each year. And it’s attracting people or it’s getting the eyeballs through emotional manipulation. Because it does better when people are, are agro or they’re emotionally; what was the word, aroused.

John August  21:50

There is an old maxim angry people click more?

Gene Tunny  21:54

Yeah, I can believe it.

John August  21:56

Or you might say, emotionally aroused, people click more. And I mean, it’s sad to say it’s become a blur. But I do remember seeing these interviews with high people in social media saying, yes, our algorithms were designed to basically increase emotional response so that people would be more engaged with the site and would be there more. And you know, it’s one of those things like, I guess, social media, Facebook communication can be a useful thing. But it’s easy to become addicted to it and become lost in it to the point where rather than you engaging with it on your own terms, it has started to control you and it is sort of basically, you know, you’re the puppet and they’re the puppeteer sort of thing.

Gene Tunny  22:41

Yeah. Right. So, I want to go back to some of the other points you raised. You raised quite a lot of things to pick up on. But now might be a good time to ask about whether there’s any regulatory response that’s required, you referred to the government, how it’s looking at whether there are impacts on mental health of social media, which I think is an important thing to investigate.

Would you propose any regulations for advertising given? You mentioned, you’re concerned about individual sovereignty, you’re thinking some of this advertising is compromising that. Is there a need for regulation in your view of advertising?

John August  23:28

Well, I suppose as far as; I will try to answer that. That’s sort of, a bit of a long-winded answer. But my ideal answer would be a citizenry that is more engaged with this. Not so much regulation of advertising, but an obligation for social media firms to be transparent in terms of the algorithms, how they work, and to provide obligatory access to academics who are researching these sorts of phenomena, and basically have a decent amount of energy in scrutinizing these social media firms and having some outputs that are tractable, transparent and can be found.

Now, let’s say one of the things with Brexit; I suppose this is part of the whole advertising thing, is that there were targeted advertising, going to people, you know, with Maxim’s like, immigration without assimilation is invasion; or these sorts of things. Those were some of the things that were posted to people on Facebook, funded by the pro Brexit groups, and it wasn’t transparent. Nobody knew about it, because if at least, there’s an offensive advertising in the newspaper, the newspapers probably ended up in the archive at the National Library or something. In a sense, yes, you can put out offensive advertising. And there’s, you know, advertising standards and whether you can get away with it, but assuming it goes out there, at least it’s on public record. And a lot of this social media manipulation that can actually be paid for is like, can go fly totally under the radar.

I suppose my first gut reaction is, let’s have things transparent, and hope that the citizenry react to that information. And the ability of social media to manipulate undermine mental health, at least is on the table, and is clear, because I’m thinking of Facebook running around saying, oh, you know, we want our customers to be happy. And I’m thinking, no, we just cannot take their word for it, they have form, you just cannot take their word for it.

As far as regulation of advertising goes, I’m not sure we should regulate advertising. Now put it this way, everybody loves to overload the school curriculum. And I suppose my own thing is, we shouldn’t regulate advertising. But maybe there would be a point to some government department, you know, making it known that there are problems and say, whether it’s ASIC or the ACCC, they do run around sort of saying, look, there’s a bubble here, investors beware.

Now, they don’t regulate things to the point where people can’t buy and sell things. But they will run an active PR campaign saying, look, X Y, Z is unhealthy, watch out, right? And so if you had something along the same lines coming out of government, not so much a hard regulation, but more a commentary on what’s going on, that is considered well resourced, by government, and he’s coming out there to sort of like compensate for the dodgy stuff going on in advertising. I guess that would be my ideal.

And also, I suppose it is a thing of having the information to encourage the public to be more aware and more concerned about these things, and it is interesting. I mean, here’s just one of the contradictions of advertising and manipulation, is that if somebody says, look, these people are saying falsehoods, in advertising, or the internet, or whatever, and it’s affecting us, and it’s horrible. And you sort of say, well, what about all the other lies being told about other people on the internet, but you’re only worried about the lies being told about you? You know, there’s a certain narrowness in that, you’re only offended by lies talked about you, you couldn’t give a toss about lies talked about other people. And there’s a perverse narrowness going on there.

I suppose I’m meandering a bit. There was a time I remember when the government was talking about consumer loyalty programs, at shopping centers and stuff like that. And saying, oh, you know, well, maybe you should actually look at prices all around. And who knows, maybe these are not the deal that you think they are. And the corporations by golly, they were pushing back against Ron, then the Consumer Affairs people were just making a casual observation.

But that is a strange thing; I do know, some people say, oh, whenever government makes a pronouncement, oh, you’ve got to be paranoid about them. Oh, they’ve got a vested interest. Oh, there’s so there’s this. But the other side of things is sometimes when government makes a pronouncement, it has authority to it. And people go oh, if they said that, Oh, that’s interesting. And how things play through is a complicated thing, which I haven’t understood yet.

But yeah, government pronouncements can be seized upon as being manipulative, or they can be endorsed. I mean, let’s say in Australia, I think it took the government decades, but, you know, they got people to wear seatbelts. They got people to put on a hat and put on sunscreen.

I do seem to remember there has been statistics done saying, we have actually reduced the amount of skin cancer in Australia as a result of those campaigns from decades ago. So, you can see some positives coming out of government information, I guess.

I think I’ve meandered quite a lot there. I’m not sure if I really answered your question.

Gene Tunny  29:31

I was just interested in whether you were proposing any regulation of advertising. I just don’t know how it would work. I mean, I’m generally a free market sort of guy. So, I wouldn’t be proposing anything. heavy handed. I was just interested if you at the Pirate Party had a position on it?

John August  29:51

I think sort of sentiments about truth in advertising. Maybe that would be a helpful thing to give some more energy to that; I’m willing to put some more energy to that. But notice, that’s not my first line of defense. It’s more a supplement to the other things I am talking about.

Gene Tunny  30:08

So, our Competition and Consumer Commission will go after companies if they are misleading the public, which is a good thing.

Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.

Female speaker  30:24

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Gene Tunny  30:53

Now back to the show.

Okay, so I want to go back to what you said about Galbraith and then just so I’ll remember, then I want to get on to what Economics has discovered or what the view of academic economists who are expert in this area is.

I might go to Galbraith, first. You mentioned Galbraith, so John Kenneth Galbraith, who was a very famous American economist; actually might have been Canadian. Yes, Canadian American economist, in the 20th century. He worked for FDR, he ran an agency on price administration during the war. He was a professor at Harvard. He was John Kennedy’s Ambassador to India, you know, did so many amazing things and had an incredible career. And he wrote a very influential and popular and well written, highly readable books. One of the few economists who could write for a popular audience; wrote that affluent society, 1958 or 59, basically contrasting how people were driving these impressive, beautiful Cadillacs on potholed roads.

John August  32:12

Yes, that’s private affluence, public squalor gated communities. You know, there was a whole thing?

Gene Tunny  32:19

Now, it was a very influential book. Galbraith, of course, is a liberal, he was an unashamed liberal and he was very closely associated with the Democratic Party. He wrote speeches for Jack Kennedy and also Lyndon Johnson, I think,

John August  32:39

Liberal by that US usage of the term anyway.

Gene Tunny  32:43

He wrote Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society speech, if I remember correctly.

Where am I going with that? Oh, Galbraith’s other book; that was, he considered his major work was the New Industrial state. Galbraith had this view that the era of what economists called perfect competition or traditional market competition, that was over and now you had the economy dominated by these giant corporations, and they were managing demand through advertising. So, just by buying ads on the TV, on the latest sitcom, or whatever it was, they could create demand for their products. So, he was arguing that the era of tooth and claw capitalism, that was over and we’re in this new industrial state, and companies were taken over by their managers.

The age of the entrepreneur and the capitalist of the past, the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, the Carnegie’s; that was over in his view. We’re in this new industrial state and advertising was part of managing demand.

He saw advertising in that role. Now, at the time, in Galbraith’s theories, I think he was perhaps writing about a particular period in history. I don’t think his views are very; they’re a good characterization of what’s going on today. To some extent, you can shape demand, and certainly companies are trying to do that. One of the categories of advertising that we’ll talk about later is, its persuasive. It is trying to manipulate demand, by trying to not necessarily informative but essentially, prey on your emotions. There’s no doubt about that.

I remember the time that there was a; well, I’ve read the debate later. Friedman was very critical of Galbraith’s views. He had that Chicago school that view that advertising is largely informative and that what Galbraith was saying wasn’t correct. In terms of the facts, because there were products that were launched, which were very heavily advertised, which failed.

The Edsel car from Ford being an example of that. So that’s what I remember about Galbraith’s view of advertising. Is that the same as what you remember, John?

John August  35:22

Well, I would, broadly speaking, agree with what you’re saying there. The qualifiers I will make is that neither of those two gentlemen were distinguishing between the classified mode of interaction as compared to stuff that’s getting into your face without permission. And, you know, the fact that there’s signs everywhere today in a way that was not the case decades ago. You know, I think that’s a sort of change. And I suppose, goodness me, I think you were saying Friedman, is that correct? Yes. For him to say that most of advertising is informative. I just shake my head at that.

I would certainly agree. Yes, some advertising is informative. But the pushback I will say is when we talk about the way, I guess, attention on the internet is contested. Now, look, the internet advertising is not the only game in town. And if I go down to the greengrocer and look at an apple and I buy it, well, there’s a lot of our guest consumer life that is totally separate to advertising. I’m not buying that Apple because I’ve been advertised to. There are so many things I purchase that I’ve not been advertised to and it really is an internal thing where I’m making this choice. Now when I’m at the supermarket, I might be scanning through the shelves, my mind is neutral. And I’ll be susceptible to you know, sign saying X Y Z is on special or this is this or this is this or this is that. So okay, so there’s elements where I’m susceptible to manipulation

The thing about advertising on the Internet, when I say it’s contested, there’s a lot of money. There’s a lot of smart people applying themselves to this. There are high paid jobs managing internet-based advertising. So yes, you know, there’s the local green grocer, and that part of the economy just rolls along. But what I’m trying to say is, there’s parts of the economy, which have a lot of money going through them, a lot of smart people applying their brains very actively. And that’s an indication there’s something going on here. Attention is becoming a contested commodity in some fields, and people spend a lot of money, time and energy, trying to attract that attention, trying to manage that attention. And so for me, that’s a more recent change that we have. But you know, yeah, sure, some advertising is informative. But, for Friedman to say most of it is informative, I just shake my head at that.

Yeah, that just seems so totally wrong to me. But look, you can probably tell some stories about certain advertising in certain contexts that is informative, I will agree. It’s not to say that there’s no informative advertising out there, it’s just saying that where a lot of the energy and action is, is in the manipulative advertising.

Gene Tunny  38:32

Oh, exactly. And I think it’s difficult to divide it up, to say, this percentage of advertising is manipulative, or what economic literature is called persuasive.

John August  38:44

Okay, sorry. Whatever on the persuasive, informative dichotomy, but there is spam and junk mail and so on, which obviously sits in its own category, it’s not so much manipulative is invasive, I guess you would say.

Gene Tunny  38:59

Oh, yeah. There’s quite a bit of that. The way economists have divided it up; I was looking at a monograph from Carl Bagwell, who’s a professor of Economics at Stanford, I think he was at Columbia, when he wrote this monograph on the Economics of Advertising. It’s very good, I’ll put a link in the show notes.

He talks about three different views of advertising that have distinct, positive versus normative implications. So, they have different implications for what actually goes on and what’s socially desirable, whether it’s socially desirable or not.

The first category is persuasive. And he writes; that was the dominant view in the first half of the 20th century. So advertising is creating spurious product differentiation is trying to create brand loyalty to alter people’s tastes. And so that’s one category and we might think of that as that manipulative category.

John August 

That Galbraith was perhaps talking about, yeah?

Gene Tunny 

Yeah, that’s right. So, let’s create a new consumer product and advertise it on the Brady Bunch or whatever. And we’ll just get in millions of American households to go and buy it, they’ll just automatically buy it because it’s been advertised. Even, you know, regardless of what the merits of the product, I want to come back to that in a minute, because I’ve got some thoughts on this concept because I think that that model of mass marketing advertising, I don’t think that’s as effective as it once was. And this is the point Seth Godin makes in his work. So, I want to come back to that.

The second category was informative, that’s the Chicago School view, I think Friedman held that view. I remember reading years ago, a monograph that Friedman wrote for the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Thatcherite, think tank in Britain on advertising; it was Friedman who wrote that.

I’ll see if I can find something that I can put in the show notes. But certainly, that that was the Chicago School view that advertising is pro-competitive. And, you know, it’s good for consumers.

There is a third category of; a third type of view of advertising, which is some advertising is complimentary. Now, with advertising, what you’re doing, it’s helping you purchase social prestige with your product, so some advertising is there so that not just you but everyone else in the world knows that. Okay, if you buy a Jaguar car or something, or if you buy a Cartier watch, then you have social prestige and so you’re buying those positional goods; I think yeah. That’s one way of thinking about it. I think that was Hirsh. I’m trying to remember who; There was also Veblen too. Oh, Veblen of course. Yes, I have to refresh my understanding of that.

John August  42:06

Nobody talked about vicarious consumption. And anyway, the Veblen; yeah, he had some really cute ideas.

Gene Tunny  42:11

That’s right; Theory of the Leisure Class.

John August  42:13

That’s right, yes. Theory of the Leisure Class. That’s a book that I’ve read. So, it’s quite a convoluted, tortured piece of work anyway.

Gene Tunny  42:20

I’ll try and put some links in the show notes to useful resources on Veblen and positional goods. I’m just struggling to remember the name of the economist to define those goods. Yes. So that’s complementary goods. And what Bagwell; what he writes, is that the evidence is strongly suggested no single view of advertising is valid in all settings. So, we’ve got this mixture of advertising.

John August  42:48

Notice, I’ve already said classified mode of information, initiated by the consumer good, and varying degrees of dubiousness sliding away from that. That is the duality that I’ve sort of identified.

Gene Tunny  43:04

But you know, what can we do really? I mean, we sort of have to accept that this is going to occur, because we’ve got a free market economy. And the alternative is worse if we don’t allow firms to innovate and to produce products and to try to sell them off. And, you know, advertising the best way they choose. I mean, there’s that old saying; I forget who it was. It was a CEO of some major corporation in the US that I know that 50% of my advertising doesn’t work. I just don’t know which 50%.

John August  43:38

Okay, all right. Now, you’ve actually got me thinking. I think, Sir Apolo, they actually banned billboards for some period of time. Where I would regulate advertising is to say, let’s keep it out of certain public domains. You can’t have signs in, let’s say, airports, you can’t have signs in train terminals or bus terminals. But you can have advertising in the internet, you can have advertising in newspapers, you can advertise in radio and TV. So, we’re not saying there’s no advertising, but we’re making sure there is a public space that is not susceptible to sensory overcrowding.

So, maybe that would be the regulation that I would endorse. We at least, see some spaces are advertising free. Not that there is no advertising, all the advertising that does exist is controlled and regulated. So, that would be a regulation I would be willing to do. In other words, to regulate to maintain the integrity of the public square.

Gene Tunny  44:52

Right.

John August  44:53

I think I’d be willing to endorse that sort of regulation.

Gene Tunny  44:57

So, you just have to make sure that you are able to make up the lost revenue somehow. Because I mean, a lot of these little train stations, I mean, the rail businesses, the government owned rail businesses, say Queensland Rail here in Brisbane, it will be using that advertising revenue to help deliver its services; to help pay for the rail services.

John August  45:20

Notice, I’ve actually said I would much rather pay higher rates and not have the advertising on the bus shelters. Admittedly, on the one hand, you might say this is a matter of personal taste, but it’s sort of like saying, we’ve got to start somewhere. And we’ve got to draw the line and say, look, this is where it stops.

But, you know, you guys can play in the sandpit over there, that’s not a problem, just not here. That’s the sort of delineation working. But equally, when you’re saying, look, the train stations need this revenue to get by on, maybe that’s telling us that there’s something out of balance with the economy that they need to do that. And I just look at just how much waste goes on in our economy that is just endemic. And its sort of like, people are very selective when they point out waste, I suppose.

Okay, going off on a bit of a tangent, we were talking about Georgism; the last discussion we had, and who knows, maybe we’ll build up on that. But let me tell you a little story. And I may have actually told you this the last time it was on the podcast, I’m not sure. But if the government does something that affects your property values, people will queue up to the government say, oh, how dare you? You’re damaging my property values. But if the government sets up a railway station moderately close to where you are, your property value skyrockets. I’ve yet to see a queue of guilt-ridden people at the tax office saying; ah, you’ve boosted my property values so much. Gosh, I feel so guilty. Here’s some of that. Right? So, somehow, that reminds me of that story.

Gene Tunny  47:12

Yeah. And that’s what motivates the Georgia’s to argue for greater use of land taxation. Exactly.

John August  47:20

And again, they call it user rent, because they think that tax is a dirty word. And oh my gosh, you know, some of these words just get so twisted and abused, but I call it land value taxation, and just say stuff it call it that.

Gene Tunny  47:35

Yeah. Okay. What I was talking about before, was just that, obviously, companies and, well, individuals or small businesses that are advertising, find value and if they’re spending the money, I know that Facebook advertising, or Google ads; that is really, super beneficial for people who are running some small businesses or bigger businesses.

I know, people in eCommerce who rely upon running huge amounts of Facebook ads for their eCommerce business, and you can work out, like, what’s your cost per click and what’s your cost per acquisition and work out the Economics of it. And if you’re making enough of a margin on your product, to pay for their Facebook ad, you just buy as many Facebook ads as you can. So, it can be very beneficial for many businesses.

John August  48:34

Paradoxically, notice; I want the public square to be pristine. I have less issue with Facebook doing advertising, as long as things are transparent, and they’re being held to account for any incidental psychological harm they do along the way. But notice, I don’t have any principle objection to Facebook or Google doing advertising. The other vague concern I have is maybe these guys are abusing monopoly power. Right? Now, the thing is, that’s, you might say, an accidental monopoly. It’s not that they’ve done anything dodgy along the way, they just got into the ground floor, and it’s just sort of, being an avalanche from that point.

So, they’ve got a relative monopoly not from being dodgy, but from just from getting in on the ground floor. And I’m a bit anxious about the fact that these guys have gotten monopoly power. Now, if there were some way just like you have land value taxation, some way of living in Google or Facebook, a special tax decreases your monopoly where you would identify the monopoly privilege and say, we’re going to charge you guys because you got the monopoly privilege. That might go a little bit of the way towards that.

As long as Facebook are being held to account for site incidental psychological harm, they can advertise as they like. The concern is there abuse of monopoly power; maybe there are things you can do about that. But notice, I’ve actually endorsed that advertising in that context because Facebook are providing that platform. It’s fair enough that they do that.

Gene Tunny  50:13

Yeah. Well, okay, so I’m unsure how governments will be able to hold Facebook accountable for the psychological harm. I don’t think they’re doing that. At the moment. I mean, I’ve got big concerns about well, Instagram in particular, and what that means for teenage girls. Now, with the monopoly power, you could liken it or compare it to a natural monopoly, so a public utility. Now, these companies, Google and Facebook, they’ve got; they will argue that competition is just a click away. But they’ve got all of these users who, well, they’re just so familiar with the platform. And Google’s got relationships with the browser’s; it’s got its own browser, Chrome. And if you go into the search bar, it’s automatic to Google search.

John August  51:00

I will just shake my head and say, that’s a totally nebulous claim that Facebook and Google are subject to competition. I just shake

Gene Tunny  51:07

Oh, yeah. But that’s what they will argue. And this is a point that was made on the latest episode of Econ talk. Ross Roberts show; he had SRIDHAR RAMASWAMY, who was a former Google Exec. He’s on Roberts latest episode, and he set up his own search engine, which is, is it Nera or Neva? I’ve written it down, but I can’t read my own writing in the notes. I’ll put the correct title in the show notes. But that’s supposed to be a search engine you can use without them tracking you.

John August 

I think DuckDuckGo is also in that category.

Gene Tunny 

It’s a search engine where they don’t track you or serve up targeted ads. But the problem that he said, that he’s got, and if you’re listening in the audience, and you’re interested in these issues, and absolutely, please check out the latest episode at Econ talk, I listened to it this morning. It’s really good. He was saying that the problem is that if you go into your browser and you open up a new tab, you will automatically do a Google search. You can’t program that browser, or at least Chrome or Safari. I think he was saying to have it automatically do a DuckDuckGo or, or on his search engine. So, he said there’s that barrier. And you know, there’s the fact that if you’re on Facebook, or your friends are on Facebook, or you’re signed up to all of these community groups on Facebook; how are you going to leave? Right, you almost locked in?

John August  52:40

Well, I’ve noticed, be it Facebook or particularly Twitter; you know, Facebook is forever saying, you know, don’t you want to be a member of this group, or have this friend or whatever. And I guess Twitter is doing the same thing. And I look at these suggestions saying, How do I remember have enough groups already? I can barely deal with a number I have, and you’re trying to get me to join more?

And the same goes with Twitter. Of course, Twitter’s getting quite obnoxious in that, you might have these people you’re following. And then Twitter hits you with all this stuff from people you’re not following.

Gene Tunny  53:17

I was just trying to make the point about these companies that if you think of them as almost as natural monopolies; I think this is where the hipster antitrust people are going. I had a chat with Danielle Wood from Grattan Institute, about this whole idea of hipster antitrust, a couple of years ago now, I’ll put a link in the show notes. But you could think about economic regulation of these companies.

I mean, I’m not necessarily advocating for that now, but I think it’s worth investigating and think thinking about that you could regulate the rate of return that they can earn. Now, Google and Facebook are just earning huge amounts of advertising revenue.

John August 

My suggestion would be okay, they have the regular tax on their profits, which is just like any other corporation, but they also have a special levy because they’re a monopoly and how we actually figure out how large that monopoly levy would be, I wouldn’t know but you’re kind of a smart man to figure it out. But you understand the conception of saying we accept these guys, we accept them monopoly. I don’t think you can meaningfully break it up or regulate with a forced fist as it were, but you could at least, identify the nature of that monopoly and what its consequences are and have an additional levy based on that.,

Gene Tunny  54:53

Yeah. So, in utility regulation, what typically gets done is that, they’re allowed to recover their costs that are prudent; their prudent costs, and they’re then allowed to earn a return on their capital invested. So a weighted average cost of capital. I don’t know how you do that with Google or Facebook. But, look, I mean, I think given that the market power that they have, there is certainly legitimate debate about, what should be done with regards to these big companies that are involved in surveillance capitalism.

I’ve had a chat with Darren Nelson, a frequent guest on this podcast about that in the past. I’ll put a link in the show notes.

I’ll probably have to start wrapping up, just a couple more things.

On the benefits or the purported benefits of advertising. I mentioned that big companies and smaller companies, smaller businesses are spending huge amounts of money on advertising. So presumably, some of it is effective. There’s that question of effectiveness to them versus, how valuable it is for the wider community. Of course, we’ve talked about that. Some advertising can be wasteful or manipulative.

But Deloitte Access Economics, which is an Australian economic consulting firm; it did some work for the advertising industry body, back in 2016. Advertising Pays was the report, I’ll put a link in the show notes. They only published the executive summary; you can only get that online. I haven’t been able to interrogate their methodology just to get a sense of how robust these numbers are. But they claimed that they estimated $40 billion of benefits from advertising. So, there was $13 billion of total spending, 2014 on advertising in Australia, they argue that it promotes competition and lower prices for consumers. That’s a Chicago School view really, that it increases innovation and market efficiency, it supports jobs, it employs 56,000 people directly; this is in the in Australia. You’d probably 10x that or more, for the US. And then for every person directly employed, you’ve got another person indirectly employed in the supply chain. And that’s upstream of advertising.

But then you’ve got downstream in the industries that advertising is advertising for. You’ve got another 100,000. So, Deloitte did this piece, where they’re saying how wonderful advertising is, I think it should have had that broader analysis because when I read the literature, my reading of the economic literature is I’d be a bit more careful in describing the benefits of it.

John August  57:47

Okay, well. Have you heard of Hoteling’s Paradox? There’s also a story that, in the US; first off, I don’t particularly endorse tobacco smoking or whatever, apart from it being I guess, an element of personal freedom, if you’re not affecting anybody else and have private health insurance, yeah. But park that to one side.

The story is in the US, when the US government said there will be no cigarette advertising. The actual profits of the cigarette companies went up, because they were advertising. And they were basically vigorously competing over market share. They were not either informing the consumers or to some degree, getting new smokers on board. Clearly, if they have no new smokers on board, you might have downstream effects as fewer people are smoking sort of thing. But in the short term, the profitability and revenue; I guess revenue wouldn’t have gone up. But certainly, the profitability of those cigarette companies went up because a lot of their advertising was just squabbling over market share, rather than doing any of the things that are normally attributed to advertising.

And we can also say the same perhaps of advertising around electricity, utilities, or mobile phone plans, or whatever. But a certain amount of that advertising is basically squabbling over market share. I could do some game theory calculations and figure out what the equilibrium is, I’d like to think I keep my head around that mathematics. But the thing is, that particular study didn’t identify what you might call the wasteful advertising, which is just related to squabbling over market share, right? Look, some advertising may well give us information, may inform our choices and so on. But I still say, why can’t we rely on the consumer to act off on their own initiative and initiate the certs themselves and figure out what’s going on? How much of advertising is like basically, pushing stuff on to the consumer, or, as it were the consumer presses about, and they get the advertising coming at them. And I know you’re talking about Seth; what’s his last name? Seth Godin, who was talking about permission marketing in the sense that, you only pursue the person if they have reciprocated. And then you give them more information.

So, in its own way, you might say that slightly more ethical, but the initial contact may well be someone getting into your face without your permission. Still, I guess, in its own way, a slightly more ethical way of relating to the concept.

Gene Tunny  1:00:35

Yeah, I think Seth Godin’s main point is that you want them coming to you, you need to ask for permission. You need to earn their trust, and then, that people will receive your messages.

The approach he takes is a good example, because he has his blog; he’s got his daily blog, and I’ve been reading it for years. And so, you’re getting all this quality information from him; quality content, he’s got a podcast. And then, every now and then he will say, well, if you’re interested in learning more about marketing or about podcasting, do my course on his akimbo platform. And that’s actually how I got into podcasting, because I did Seth Godin’s, podcasting course.

Seth was only a small part of that; I think he recorded a few lessons, and then he’d occasionally be on the chat. And he’d respond to some people’s messages. But it was run by one of his colleagues, Alex DiPalma really great course.

I think he is a great example of how that permission marketing works. It’s, it’s earning trust, it’s enrolling people as he describes it.

John August  1:01:53

Well, I guess I wouldn’t, broadly speaking, I’d endorse that sentiment. I worry about how the initial contact is made. It’s sort of like saying, if someone gets in touch with you have their own accord, how do you deal with that strategically? That’s legitimate, okay?

I guess yes, I’d endorse that element of marketing. But I guess that’s a few steps removed from the issues that we’re debating here.

Gene Tunny  1:02:22

Yeah, okay. So, final point, you made the point about the competition for market share, which is a very good point. And the empirical evidence supports that. So, Kyle Bagwell, in his monograph on advertising that I’ll link to in the show notes, he talks about a major study in the 70s in the US, which essentially show that look, advertising does increase sales and market share. But it does for particular businesses and advertise, but it doesn’t appear to increase title sales for that product group or so, it just reallocates.

John August  1:03:07

Well, in that case, you can say that if all you’re doing is increasing market share, that’s not a social good to the economy as a whole. It’s just shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic as it were.

Gene Tunny  1:03:18

Yeah. So, to the extent that that was persuasive advertising rather than informative advertising. If it was informative, and you were informing consumers that, our product is subtly different, or it has this feature that that other product doesn’t. And that’s why market share shifts, and that could be socially beneficial, because people do get a better product.

John August  1:03:41

Except that if they’re, let’s say, significant, real points of difference that you’re drawing attention to. All right, fair enough. I’ll go along with that.

Gene Tunny  1:03:50

Yeah. And so the conclusion was from that study, I think this is how Bagwell described it is that advertising is combative. So yeah, I think there’s a lot of truth to that idea that much of advertising is just about companies competing over market share. And to the extent that they get the market share for spurious reasons, then that could be wasteful.

John August  1:04:13

Oh yes. Well, the other thing is, this is a few steps removed from advertising. But, you know, with customer plans around utilities, it’s possible that rather than competing over service, they’re competing over their ability to befuddle customers and make them think that they’ve got a good deal when the plan is just so complicated, that they’d never make sense of it, unless they, you know, did a very detailed spreadsheet and work things through bit by bit. So yeah, I think there’s also competition to the befuddle the consumer rather than actually deliver something useful.

There’re many things that are rattling around in my head. I only just want;

Gene Tunny  1:04:51

That’s okay. I might conclude with what Kyle Bagwell concluded in his study, essentially saying, we can categorize different types of advertising. So, we know some of its wasteful, we know some of its useful. But beyond that, it’s hard to say, you know, how much is, is useful, how much is wasteful. He concluded that; well, much has been learned, the economic implications of advertising are subtle and controversial. And many of the most important questions remain unresolved. So that was in 2005, he wrote that and I think it’s still the case. And yeah, we still got all the manipulative advertising, we’ve now got surveillance capitalism, and we’ve got Google and Facebook earning a huge chunk of the total advertising spend just because of their near or, well, I wouldn’t say that the I mean, potentially, there could be a competitor that comes along and challenges them. But I think they’re close enough. They’re very close to being a monopoly in in their areas at the moment. And they’re just earning a huge amount of that revenue. And that’s something that arguably should be addressed.

John August, any final thoughts?

John August  1:06:17

Okay, well, the final thought, I guess, that I have been boiling away and inside of me that I guess has been hinted at a lot of what I’ve said is that, if we’re talking about respecting our integrity, the sovereignty of the human being, that’s something that I think does sit outside of our calculations of costs and benefits and so on, you know, fundamentally, we want to respect the sovereignty of the human being, once we’ve ticked that box, then we worry about where to go from there. And we may have good advertising or bad advertising or whatever. But I think respect for the individual sits to some degree outside of all this economic argument.

Gene Tunny  1:06:59

Yes, I think that’s right. That’s a normative issue. So, yes. I should point out that; this is a different concept. There is a concept in Economics, called consumer sovereignty. I don’t know if you’re aware of that concept. The idea is that consumers are sovereign, and they’re rational, and they choose what’s in their best interest. And in a way, the power of advertising, the manipulative power of advertising, the fact that we all ended up being persuaded to buy a product that we ended up having buyer’s remorse, we made border for the wrong reason. And you could argue that whole assumption of consumer sovereignty, isn’t that solid.

John August  1:07:47

Okay, well, hopefully this doesn’t take us down another rabbit hole. But do we say that someone becomes addicted to heroin through their informed engagement with the market? I think the answer is no. What if we’re struggling to lose weight, and we want to lose weight, but we’re advertised all the sweets and things where we succumb to them on a day-by-day basis.

So, my endorsement of the sovereignty of the individual is a little bit complicated. I acknowledge our faults and our failings, but emphasize that if advertisers are strategically taking advantage of our psychological thoughts, that’s even worse than us having them in the first place.

Gene Tunny  1:08:32

Yeah, okay. I think that’s a fair point to end on. John August, thanks so much for dropping by my ad-hoc podcasting studio on your road trip. It’s been a great pleasure. I really value your insights and having a frank and fearless conversation about these important economic and social issues. So, thanks so much.

John August  1:09:00

Oh, thank you. It’s developed my own thinking too. So, I wonder if we should put the energy into making policy changes here when there’s so many other fish to fry, but hey, it’s interesting to think about.

Gene Tunny  1:09:12

Very good. Okay. Thank you, John. Okay, thanks, Gene.

Okay, that’s the end of this episode of Economics Explored. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, please tell your family and friends and leave a comment or give us a rating on your podcast app. If you have any comments, questions, suggestions, you can feel free to send them to contact@economicsexplored.com and we’ll aim to address them in a future episode. Thanks for listening, till next week, goodbye.

Credits

Big thanks to EP144 guest John August and to the show’s audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing the episode. 

Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored. Economics Explored is available via Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.

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