The Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Protection

by Thomas Krattenmaker



It is frightfully difficult to speak succinctly and persuasively about either the U.S. Federal Trade Commission or the present wave of demands for increased protection of American consumers, and certainly impossible to set out a complete overview of both topics in readably brief form. A full treatment of the successes and failures of the Federal Trade Commission, then, could not responsibly be achieved in the space available. The agency is simply too big, too old, and too much studied to yield to such cursory analysis. If anything, the consumer movement is an even more amorphous phenomenon. What is "consumer protection" or "consumerism"? This unavoidable definitional problem consistently plagues those who would discuss the subject. If only because the American nation seems firmly committed to the view that a capitalist, free enterprise system is the best means for organizing society's economic functions, it is appropriate to begin by assuming that, for a federal agency, consumer protection must mean governmental activity designed to assure that consumers in fact realize the benefits they should theoretically obtain from their participation in the marketplace.

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