Consumerism and product standards

Over at Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin commented on anti-market types who point out the banality of consumer choices, and its burdensome qualities. He quotes Barry Schwartz who hates making difficult and nuanced consumer choices. I was thinking about this recently in reference to typical laissez faire arguments against state sponsored quality control organizations like the FDA.
The typical argument is that voluntary organizations and companies dedicated to researching, promoting, and even certifying product qualities could and most certainly would emerge on the free market. After all there are private organizations already in existence, Consumer Reports, The Better Business Bureau etc. I agree that this argument is generally correct, but I think it also overlooks the argument that Schwartz is bringing up. Maybe it’s a stupid argument but I think that there’s a response nonetheless. The bottom line is that Schwartz is burdened with making consumer choices less and less in real terms as markets mature. In today’s internet savvy world he can free-ride off the efforts of others who love that kind of thing. Today, the information is at his fingertips even without formal firms and organizations dedicated to providing the service at a profit.
We have overlooked the comparative value of communication technologies to solve this issue of consumer awareness. Today we have the advantages of going online and reading real testimonials from dozens sometimes hundreds of consumers who use and test products in a variety of new and innovative ways. We can read where they bought stuff, what they paid for it, we can even watch videos of them using it. People even articulate complaints and coordinate efforts amongst shoppers to communicate to companies and seek future changes in products and services all through the internet.

Join Stumble Upon right now!

At first, I thought Stumble was just a neat toolbar that you could add onto firefox and click from time to time when you wanted the internet to entertain you. But it’s so much more. It has all of the best parts of every web 2.0 site I’ve seen but better.
Two problems:
1. You probably don’t know very many people on it. Especially if you’re not on it. So get on it and stay on it.
2. Because the sample of people on it are first adopters you get a bizarre internet version of information. For example, I was the first person to “discover” several websites whose reputations in reality far outpaces what their observed reputation on the web is.
Case in point, in the world of stumble I was the first to discover these important sites:
The AEA: The worlds most prominent economics organization.

The Mercatus Center
: The top economic educator on capital hill.

The Mont Pelerin Society
: Economic network begun by FA Hayek and consisting of several if not all of the living Nobel Prize winners in economics.
Randy Barnett: Has arguably advanced the arguments for anarchism in academic mainstream more than anyone alive.
Andrei Shleiffer: The best non-Austrian economist.

The power of technology and ideas together

I can’t stress enough how great the internet is at progressing academic study. The production costs of sharing and or publishing material is almost infinitely low. As such it makes the opportunity of publishing accessable to more people. Take me for example, a lowly graduate student and here I am publishing material to all who wish to find it. A similar heart warming example, is a recent find on Allen Dalton’s syllabus for principles of macroeconomics, where he lists my Taco Bell article as one of the required readings.