Honesty and transparency, tools for a better world.
8 min read
- The fundamental right to choose
- Right to an informed choice
- New standards for honesty and transparency.
The fundamental right to choose.
It’s no secret that we at Made By Liberty have a very high regard for personal freedom. How exactly would you define freedom though? That’s actually quite simple. At its core, it’s the right to choose. To decide for yourself where you live, what you eat, how you earn a living, who you associate with, how you spend your money and so much more.
In principle, it should only be limited either by someone else’s right of choice (as in, you can’t choose to buy a house if the current owner does not want to sell it to you) or by our other rights (as in, you can’t choose to steal from someone, as you would infringe upon that person’s right to own property) .
However, in the real world, there are two more ways in which our right of choice is inhibited.
Firstly, it can be actively limited. Mostly this is done by governments, but also occurs in parent-child relationships for example. Under threat of punishment, the commanding party can either forbid you to do something even though it wouldn’t infringe upon someone else’s rights, or they can command you to do things you wouldn’t otherwise choose to do. You can see how this can sometimes be justified (as in, a parent making their child eat vegetables or do homework), but can also be horrifically misused (as in slavery for example).
Everyone is probably aware of the first one. But there is a second way that is far less talked about: limiting your ability to make an informed choice. That’s what we’ll be focusing on in this post.
The right to an informed choice.
Demonstrating the concept.
Imagine you’re buying a house for $500,000. It looks terrific and the previous owners can’t say enough nice things about it. Over the moon with your new home, you and your family move in and start your new lives. What the previous owners failed to mention however is that there’s a crack in the foundation. Only after several months of living there do you find out about the problem. To your horror you realize that it will cost you about $150,000 to fix it. Furious, you call the previous owners, demanding they pay for the repairs. After all, you wouldn’t have chosen to pay $500,000 if you had known about the issue. In other words, they violated your right to make an informed choice.
In many ways this concept already exists in today’s markets. You can’t deceive customers by telling them something about your product that isn’t true or neglect to tell them something that’s critical to its functioning. For example, you can’t tell a customer that the car they’re about to buy is more fuel-efficient than it really is or neglect to tell them that the brakes don’t work. But even though the right to an informed choice is acknowledged in many ways, there are still two glaring issues with its execution.
First Issue: ethics are not seen as critical information.
The concept of responsibly made products are a fairly new phenomenon. You only have to go back a couple of decades for people to look at you funny if you were to ask where the product is made or what its carbon footprint is. People weren’t really concerned with environmental impact and most products were probably made in your own- or a neighboring country.
Today things are different and more and more consumers are actually starting to ask these questions. The right to an informed choice hasn’t changed with it however. Information focused on ethics isn’t seen in the same light as the actual functioning of the product. Nothing compels companies to tell their customer where or in what conditions their products are made and since most of them have no good reason to share that information, they don’t.
Second Issue: obeying the letter, not the spirit.
While most companies will refrain from telling you outright lies, a lot of them do have a tendency to deceive you in more subtle ways.
One way companies do this, is by not sharing certain information that the law wouldn’t punish them for omitting, but might make the customer less likely to buy their products.
Example: if you’re selling a product for $100 dollars, but it only cost you $5 to make, it’s probably not the best idea to tell that to your customers, as they will feel that they’re overpaying.
Another way is to phrase things in ways that will give customers a false impression, but aren’t strictly untrue.
Example: you’re selling a hairdryer and you put a big German flag on the packaging, with the words “engineered in Germany”. A customer might now get the impression that her hairdryer is made in Germany, even though it’s only designed there.
Often, these two are combined. Green-washing is a famous example of this.
Example: you might be proud of yourself for buying some expensive sneakers made from recycled materials, as you’re doing your bit to help the environment. Meanwhile you have no idea that you just paid $150 for a pair of shoes that were made in a sweatshop for $10. On top of that, due to inefficient processing and transportation cost, the carbon footprint of your shoes might actually be higher than a pair that was locally made from new materials. So the company didn’t lie to you, the materials are indeed recycled, but would you call them honest?
You probably have plenty of examples of this in your personal life, most of which you won’t even be aware of. A lot of marketing, especially online is based on this consumer ignorance. People don’t know how the products they buy are made and because it’s so hard to find out, people don’t realize that they are getting deceived.
The importance of informed choices.
While almost anyone will probably agree that it’s not exactly ethical to deceive customers, I want to take it one step further. I believe it’s detrimental to freedom and capitalism as a whole. The beauty of a truly free market is that it’s based on voluntary exchange. This means that every transaction is agreed upon by both parties and that neither of them can be forced to accept the deal if they don’t think it’s fair. In short, every transaction should be beneficial to both parties. But how can that be if one of them isn’t given the full picture?
That is the core of many problems we face today. A lack of transparency and honesty is allowing people and companies to take advantage of someone’s ignorance. This creates perfect conditions for exploitation and deception. Both of which are directly opposed to the ideas of freedom and capitalism. We, at Made By Liberty, believe people deserve better.
New standards for honesty and transparency.
Some customers might not care about where or how products are made. They might not even care if they’re overpaying, as long as they get the product at a price they are willing to pay for it. That is ultimately up to them. Regardless, we believe it’s a matter of respect towards a customer’s right to choose that a company provides them with complete and honest information regarding a product’s quality and origin. That way, if it were to impact a customer’s decision, they are made aware of it.
Caveat: Sometimes it’s understandable that companies can’t share certain aspects of production publicly, in order to keep others from being able to copy their products or for security reasons. However, most information isn’t that sensitive or can be generalized enough so that a customer can get the information they need, without compromising sensitive details.
Aside from the fact that making an informed choice is, at least in our opinion, a fundamental right; more transparency and honesty in the market might actually produce a number of other positive changes in the long run:
- Conscious consumption: as consumers become more informed, they might start to buy more consciously as they can now more easily see what the differences between various products are.
- Less waste: we’re not just talking about material waste here. A lot of unproductive time and money is spent by companies on marketing practically the same product that’s already being sold by a hundred others. At the same time customers have no real way of differentiating between this overabundance of brands. By increasing transparency, those brands that don’t add any specific value will start to die off and will leave behind a leaner, more efficient market.
- Better products: as companies have to be more open about the production and quality of their products, they might put more effort into improving those aspect rather than just dreaming up their next marketing campaign.
These changes might take a while to take effect or might even be less prevalent than we would hope. What we can say with confidence however, is that a market that puts people’s right to an informed choice first will always be more harmonious and free than the market that allows for deception and exploitation.
If you agree with us and want to see more honesty and transparency in today’s market, be sure to check out the rest of our website if you haven’t already. We have a bunch of exiting projects, like our directory, aiming to do exactly that! Also, don’t hesitate to follow us on social media or sign up to our spam-free newsletter to become a part of the solution. I hope to see you around!