The Public Stakes of Consumer Law: The Environment, the Economy, Health, Disinformation, and Beyond

76 Pages Posted: 22 Dec 2022 Last revised: 27 Nov 2023

See all articles by Rory Van Loo

Rory Van Loo

Boston University - School of Law; Yale University - Yale Information Society Project

Date Written: December 21, 2022

Abstract

Consumer law has a conflicted and narrow identity. It is most immediately a form of business law, governing market transactions between people and companies. Accordingly, the microeconomic analysis of markets is the dominant influence on consumer law. On the other hand, consumer law is often described as, and assumed to be about, protecting the consumer, which implicates small instances of individual injustice. Both of these lenses are valuable but reflect limited awareness of the field’s importance among lawmakers, scholars, and the public. We are all consumers. Exchanges between consumers and corporations contribute to global warming when people buy energy-inefficient household appliances; drive public health epidemics, like obesity, due to harmful food purchases; and widen wealth gaps, when low-income or minority households are subjected to predatory sales practices. Yet despite these stakes, consumer law has struggled to gain intellectual or popular appeal, in contrast to the explosion in antitrust interest that has resulted from the growing interest in holding large technology companies accountable. Unlike workers, veterans, and businesses, consumers have neither a department at the federal level nor a committee focused on them in either the House or the Senate. Many law schools do not even offer a consumer law course. This Article reveals the risks of consumer law’s invisibility and calls for an institutional and conceptual reconstruction of the field. Consumer law always mattered, but recent shifts in legal institutions, markets, and technologies have further elevated its importance. To reflect that societal importance, and to return the economic analysis to its roots, a public priority principle should serve as consumer law’s analytic loadstone. Legal institutions can also help by shifting from marginalizing the field to featuring it. At a minimum, it is time to recognize that consumer law has a meaningful role to play in the struggles to strengthen democracy, preserve the environment, foster health, and promote prosperity.

Suggested Citation

Van Loo, Rory, The Public Stakes of Consumer Law: The Environment, the Economy, Health, Disinformation, and Beyond (December 21, 2022). 107 Minnesota Law Review 2039 (2023) , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4308960

Rory Van Loo (Contact Author)

Boston University - School of Law ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

Yale University - Yale Information Society Project

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

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