Preferences for Processes: The Process/Product Distinction and the Regulation of Consumer Choice
118 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2004 Last revised: 6 Jul 2011
Three prominent interconnected trends - the equation of civic responsibility with consumer spending, the displacement of politically-determined regulatory policies by market-derived environmental, health, and safety standards, and the global integration of product markets - have been joined by a less well-recognized fourth: The struggle for control over consumer access to information regarding the processes by which products come into being. The aim of this Article is to identify and expand on this under-appreciated trend by, first, demonstrating the existence of a conceptual distinction between product-related information (e.g., whether a consumer good threatens to harm its user) and process-related information (e.g., whether a good's production harmed workers, animals, or the environment) as an increasingly prominent effort to resolve policy disputes that involve the entanglement of consumer regulation with broader social or environmental questions; second, showing that this process-product distinction is too thin and formalistic of a conceptual device to address such policy disputes in a stable or satisfying manner; and, finally, arguing more broadly in favor of acknowledging and accommodating consumer process preferences within theoretical frameworks for policy analysis, given the potential significance that such preferences may serve in the future as outlets for public-regarding behavior.
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