What is Consumer Protection For?

Loyola Consumer Law Review, 2022

78 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2021 Last revised: 29 Jan 2023

See all articles by Luke Herrine

Luke Herrine

University of Alabama - School of Law

Date Written: January 27, 2023


When law and economics barreled its way into consumer protection scholarship two score years ago, it brought with it a framework in which actual markets are compared to an ideal market in which consumers optimize exogenous welfare functions by choosing between optimally competitive sellers. Even after two decades of behavioralist critique and even with increasingly critical perspectives taking root since the Global Financial Crisis, this “consumer sovereignty ideal” continues to serve as both a descriptive and normative baseline for consumer protection scholarship.

This Article argues that it is time to reconsider the “consumer sovereignty framework”. It argues instead for a “moral economy framework”. Instead of treating consumers as welfare maximization machines that sometimes malfunction, we ought to conceptualize them as bundles of socially influenced habits. Instead of treating markets as deviations from an ideal of perfect competition, we ought to conceptualize them as socially constructed and reproduced institutional forms. Instead of treating the goal of consumer markets as having rational consumer choice drive all outcomes, we ought to treat consumer markets as having multiple purposes, in accordance with their role in contributing to (a contestable account of) human flourishing. In sum, consumer markets are collectively created spaces to serve social ends.

Thinking about consumer protection in this way allows us to see many existing laws in a new light, to draw together disparate strands of scholarship that dissent from economic orthodoxy, and to ask different sorts of questions about what—and whom—consumer protection is for.

Keywords: consumer law, consumer protection, federal trade commission, UDAP, disability, legal theory, advertising, administrative law, law and economics, law and political economy, moral economy

JEL Classification: law

Suggested Citation

Herrine, Luke, What is Consumer Protection For? (January 27, 2023). Loyola Consumer Law Review, 2022, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3781762 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3781762

Luke Herrine (Contact Author)

University of Alabama - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 870382
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487
United States

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