Southampton University Libertarian Society

Open Contracts: A Market Anarchist Theory of Advertising by sconzey
January 22, 2010, 10:53 pm
Filed under: Philosophy, Views | Tags: , , , ,

In discussions with Statists, regulation of advertising is commonly raised as an objection to market anarchism. The argument goes that false advertising used to be a serious problem, but thanks to ex ante regulation, companies are prevented from using advertising which is obscene or misleading.

On the face of it, this is a serious problem. Suppose landowners used ex ante regulations to control advertising on their property. When property holdings are large, this is a reasonable proposition; in the case of a for-profit metropolitan company for instance, it is entirely reasonable that consumers be aware of the company’s advertising policy. However when passing through unfamiliar property, or when holdings are small, how can a consumer be expected to know the constraints placed on the truthfulness of advertising? Indeed, this very problem is still largely unsolved on the great unregulated Internet.

The reader should be familiar with that staple of market anarchist theory, the Private Defence Agency; both police and armed forces, an Agency protects their subscribers’ personal and private property, as well as enforcing their contracts, settling disagreements between subscribers in an arbitration court and then enforcing the decisions. When a dispute arises between the customers of two different PDAs, a pre-agreed arbitration court, or one nominated by the two disputers is used, with both PDAs agreeing to abide by it’s decisions.

The solution to the problem of false advertising is clear then: if a company believes that the claims they use in their advertising would stand up in a court of law, they place the logo of their PDA subtly on the advert, signalling that it is not just an advert, but an open contract between them and whoever buys their product or uses their services.

The problem of obscenity in advertising is much harder one, because people have no right not to be offended. I think this can satisfactorily be left to civil society, to ensure that most places enforce minimum standards of conduct and behaviour.

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