by Michael Pertschuk ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 1, 1982
How did the consumer impulse of the 1960s and early '70s succumb to the anti-regulatory fervor of recent years? ""What had we accomplished? Where had we gone wrong?"" As staff director of the Senate Commerce Committee, Pertschuk launched one after another consumer-protection law; as the Carter-appointed chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (""the fulfillment of an adult fantasy""), he had to fight to keep the agency alive. Here he offers a wry and rousing appraisal of that dramatic reversal--and of the prospects for consumerism today. His major point, articulated and demonstrated, is an amalgam of the thinking of James Q. Wilson (The Politics of Regulation) and Charles E. Lindblom (Politics and Markets): under certain conditions, public-interest entrepreneurs can mobilize latent sentiment for remedial, business-curbing legislation (Wilson) but business influence on government decision-making will ultimately prevail (Lindblum). So we see, in the prosperous, anti-Establishment mid-'60s, zealous young Committee staffers evoke public outrage over flammable children's clothing (pointed out to Comm. chairman Magnuson by a pediatrician-constituent) and channel that outrage into a demand for Congress ""to strengthen the flammable fabrics law."" We see the moment, in the faltering mid-'70s, at which business took fright (""You touched the money nerve,"" said a Chamber of Commerce rep); mobilized in turn (the PACs); and, given new respectability by the free-enterprise economists, found ""a public voice."" And later we see the crestfallen FTC reaction to being tagged--in the Washington Post!--the ""National Nanny"" (because of its proposed constraints on children's TV advertising) and how the depleted, chastened public-interest entrepreneurs regrouped. Early and late, Pertschuk shrewdly and appreciatively weighs the impact of Ralph Nader--as ""an Old Testament prophet"" or Sherman-marching-through-Georgia. A buoyant and pithy book on one of the world's less glittering subjects.
Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1982
Page Count: -
Publisher: Univ. of California Press
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1982
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