The Economics and Ethics of
Can advertising be good for fostering competition, reducing prices, expanding choice, stimulating innovation, and adding value to consumer products—and also bad for us?
For many critics, the answer is a clear, resolute, perhaps even loudly shouted, “Yes!” They see modern advertising as a sort of moral sewer, a steady stream of problematic pitches urging us to drink and eat too much, dirty our lungs, or escape reality through mood-altering chemicals while debasing our culture with sexually explicit images that verge on pornography. To escape advertising's assault on our physical, mental, and moral health would require a willingness to withdraw from modern life that most of us do not have, the argument goes. Consequently, we are stuck with advertiser-driven mass media that are, in the end, bad for us. And if that was not bad enough, along comes a new, boundless shopping mall of filth and frivolity called the Internet.
For those who defend advertising on legal, economic, or even aesthetic grounds, this critique of commercial culture is probably the most difficult one to discuss and rebut. I do not mean to suggest that there are no possible rebuttals to it, only that they are less likely to persuade disgruntled critics. Regarding issues of legality or economic