WHEN CONSUMERS COMPLAIN by Arthur Best

WHEN CONSUMERS COMPLAIN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

No indignation--though Professor Best (N.Y.U. Law School) bases his review of consumer complaints on research he directed for Ralph Nader's Center for Study of Responsive Law. No exhortation--either to Sue the Bastards or to contact the local TV hot-line. So, no fireworks--and lots of patient, careful, flat explication. But Best has a good, solid point: ""When valid complaints quickly lead to compensation to buyers, there will be a great incentive to businesses to do things right the first time."" And his review of what now happens makes particular sense in that light. Thus, he first stresses the high incidence of unvoiced complaints--people don't know what they have a right to expect, poor people tend to have low expectations (and dependent relationships with low-grade firms), Americans generally don't like to think of themselves as victims--or complainers. And each frustration, each time-consuming, costly, unproductive complaint, acts as a deterrent. Businesses, of course, know this; hence the prevalence of the runaround, the silent treatment, legal gimmickery, blaming the victim, half-a-loaf ""concessions,"" and outright intimidation. To foster direct buyer-seller settlements--and effect an immediate shift in the balance of power--Best proposes: that businesses be required to handle complaints promptly, to designate one employee to hear consumer appeals, and to keep a record, open to the public, of each complaint and its disposition. Then, to replace the present ineffectual welter of third-party mediators (the Better Business Bureaus, media hot-lines, consumer-action groups, official consumer agencies), he advocates greatly increased use of binding arbitration--government-financed and impartially administered (i.e., employing American Arbitration Association, not BBB, panelists). He would also make small claims courts, now heavily used by business to sue customers, more attuned and accessible to individuals (especially the oft-sued, wary poor); and he is distinctly in favor of group legal services--which some unions now operate--as a means, first, of overcoming the initial reluctance to complain. Members of a California group reportedly brandish their membership cards ""when they say, 'I'll call my lawyer.'"" Sensible, solid Consumer-Union-type coverage--if not quite as crisply presented.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0231051247
Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press