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Is your deodorant causing American children to starve?

By Charisa Shin
web posted November 16, 2015

Have you put on deodorant today? Was it a specialized deodorant —  one that you plucked off a shelf at Target after much contemplation and pondering? If so, then you should feel absolutely guilty, because Senator Bernie Sanders believes that your ability to choose Axe Bodyspray Dark Temptation has led to the starvation of American children. Such words sound outlandish out of context, but in context, they sound exactly the same. Sanders made the statement during an interview with CNBC:

"You can´t just continue growth for the sake of growth in a world in which we are struggling with climate change and all kinds of environmental problems. All right? You don´t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country."

Although Sanders' principles may seem altruistic and somewhat logical on the surface, they also sound eerily similar to Peter Singer's Solution to World Poverty, which presented a simple formula to solve global destitution: "Whatever money you´re spending on luxuries, not necessities, should be given away." However, both Singer and Sanders neglect to consider the ramifications of eliminating brand extension and choices in the economy, including a reduction in consumption, which could lead to a resultant decrease in Real GDP. Sanders chides that economic growth is not a decent trade-off with problems concerning the environment or poverty. If following this thinking, however, the world could dwindle into a time resemblant of the Middle Ages, considering the positive impact of technological growth on an economy. According to the OECD, "Economic growth is the most powerful instrument for reducing poverty and improving the quality of life in developing countries." Sanders fails to recognize that benefits that stem from accelerated growth, such as the accumulation of human capital and advanced efficiency in the allocation of resources, can undoubtedly help the poor.

I'm not saying that a vast array of choices is necessarily good for a firm —  in fact, too many flavors or variations could become counterproductive and produce overwhelming costs for a company. However, varying choices for a consumer to choose from provides opportunities for multiple firms to operate successfully within a competitive market. Firms often find out on their own a place of equilibrium —  if McDonald´s creates an overly complex menu and suffers in the kitchen as a result, they will edit their advertised food choices. Tampering with decentralized consumer choice by dictating what to sell at what price could lead to negative consequences, considering the specific needs, wants, and preferences of each individual consumer. How can someone decide which brands/flavors/variations to keep and which kinds to get rid of? Imagine starting the elimination process with Baskin Robbins' 31 flavors. Which one would be the first to go? Chocolate? But what about the world's enthusiastic alliance of chocolate-lovers? Then again, what about those allergic to chocolate? What about those allergic to dairy? Is ice cream even worth keeping? Cue the screams of millions of Americans! Clearly, it is quite difficult to have a central planner wisely determine what products should be sold and at what price.

My final critique lies in the issue of the fallacy of false cause, as well as the fallacy of false dilemma. In his statement, Sanders suggests an extreme: that either we keep our deodorants and sneakers, or we feed the hungry of America. I would argue that the two are not necessarily connected, even if they exist at the same time. A consumer market with plenty of choices does not harm the disadvantaged by taking away money that could benefit them; it is not concrete that those more well-off would immediately give more to the poor if choices were eliminated. In my opinion, ineffective welfare programs have a fair share in contributing to the problems of the poor, providing disincentives to work or further human capital. I don't believe such problems derive from whether or not you decide between plain oatmeal or apple and cinnamon. ESR

This is Charisa Shin's first contribution to Enter Stage Right. © 2015 Charisa Shin

 

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