The immense volume of literature about advertising and the proliferation of government efforts to regulate advertising are both impressive. I suppose what is impressive about them is that so much concern is lavished on a range of problems that seem to me, for the most part, monumentally trivial. We have become enormously sensitive about anything that might cause the slightest degree of inconvenience to consumers, and, indeed, the word "consumer" has become talismanic.
Increasingly, the task of the law and of government is seen as the elimination of all inconvenience from the sacred function of consuming efficiently. We measure an individual's efficiency in consuming, of course, by standards that we, rather than he, would agree are rational.
For some reason, we treat no other recipient of messages in our society with the solicitude with which we treat consumers. We do not ask that the persuasion employed by clergymen, in advancing religious causes, or politicians, in advancing political causes, or, most certainly, the messages delivered by professors, in advancing education, meet the standards of prior substantiation, disclosure of key information, and counteradvertising that we impose upon the sellers of products. A very good argument could be made, nonetheless, that the volume of false claims and misstatements of fact, in each of those fields, easily meets and probably surpasses the volume of false claims in commercial advertising. Can anyone be sure that imposing the kinds of standards we are discussing here today would not devastate much of religious proselytizing, political discourse, and the curricula of our major centers of learning? Applying these standards would certainly greatly alter the practice of law, though that is a point I shall not dwell on. It would also greatly change the accepted tactics of courtship.
There is a mystery here. Why is it that in commercial advertising alone we take the possibility of a misstatement so seriously that we suggest government intervention? We do not even take commercial misrepresentations seriously unless a private company makes them. An example of government advertising that is decidedly misleading, and to which there is little public outcry, is the false advertising that