Income, Equality, and Consumer Protection

By Liz Coyle – American Bar Association

Consumer protec­tion laws exist for the purpose of level­ing the playing field in the marketplace. In reality, the significant power imbalance that permeates society virtually ensures that only cer­tain consumers, and not the most vulnerable, receive the intended benefit of these regulations. Pol­icy makers wrongly assume a level playing field exists when they enact “buyer beware” dis­closure requirements. Laws based on open markets and marketplace competition incorrectly assume consumers will always have access to and will choose what’s in their best interest. Often, consumers get the blame for being duped when they should have known better.

With these underlying assump­tions as the basic tenets of consumer protection law, the scales of justice are tilted toward the wealthy, the well-educated, and the powerful. Wealthier con­sumers are more likely to have access to resources to help them make the decisions that are in their best interest, while lower-wealth individuals are more likely to encounter systemic bar­riers to the tools needed to protect themselves. This very dynamic perpetuates a system that ensures the rich keep getting richer and the poor, poorer.

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© 2020. Published in The GP Solo, Vol. 37, No. 3, May/June 2020, by the American Bar Association.Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.

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