Our Lips Are Sealed

A reader asks me to blog about the FTC decision on blogger disclosure.  The problem is, it's so transparently stupid that I don't even know what to say.

The only "free gifts" I get from companies are review copies of books, and the occasional soggy vegetarian sandwich at some corporate lunch.  That's because my employer would fire me if I accepted such things, and rightly so.  I'm in the news business.  We don't mix business and advertising.

I didn't as a private citizen, either, but then, it's not like people were knocking down my door trying to give me free stuff.  (What sort of products would a policy blogger endorse?  Stats software?  The Almanac of American Politics?) 

Is it kind of iffy? Sure.  There's a well known literature showing that once you've given people something, they feel obligated to return the favor, even if they didn't really want the thing you gave them.  The effect is presumably stronger if it's something cool that you did want.  And of course, I imagine it's hard not to blog with the thought of all the other goodies you'll be foregoing by giving a product a bad review . . .

But on the scale of cosmic harms, this ranks somewhere around putting an ill-considered steak back in the chicken case.  How can someone who is writing something for free, that those people may or may not consume at will, have a legal obligation to said people?  I can't believe that anyone thought that this required a law, rather than, say, some common sense.  If this is so pressing, where are the sob stories of consumers who bought PDAs and baby buggies that they don't even like?

This is of a parcel with the ongoing regulatory process, whereby every trivial thing that is wrong with the world requires a rule to correct it.  But then, that's what you'd expect me to say.

Update:  More from Walter Olson

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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