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Hedonic Blitzkreig

In this episode of “The Bruenigs” podcast, the hosts claim that markets by nature tend toward the creation of products that ostensibly satisfy the preferences of consumers, but in fact cause great harm to them. This is done by creating products that manipulate the brain to trigger fleeting feelings of satisfaction (porn, french fries, a Wendy’s cheeseburger, etc), but the excess consumption of which is widely understood as harmful over time. This is not an inherent property of markets, as plenty of business exist to satisfy the preferences of customers that are widely regarded as beneficial in the long-term (it is in fact possible to buy bland, healthy yogurt); but it is obviously true that human beings, lacking prescience, will often maximize immediate pleasure to the probable detriment of their overall health. It is also obviously true that certain businesses optimize for this, often with a veritable army of marketers waging psychological warfare on the consumer.

The Bruenigs are correct that sheer individual willpower is in general at a severe disadvantage here, and imply that the typical conservative response of “show some restraint” ignores the power of these marketing techniques. Presumably though, they believe in movement politics and convincing otherwise reluctant actors to join a cause. If anything, markets are more responsive to this kind of organized protest than governments, which often have entrenched bureaucracies and party structures (and sometimes even a giant army) that resist change. Other than an implicit desire to eliminate markets in consumer goods, they didn’t offer any alternatives to the status quo, so I’d be curious to hear their thoughts on that front.