In the fall of 2014, Trent Smith delivered a talk titled “The Economics of Information, Deep Capture, and the Obesity Debate.” Here’s the abstract and, below that, the video of his talk.
Are consumers susceptible to manipulation by large corporations? Or are consumers basically rational, able to decide for themselves what to buy and how to live? This lecture will argue that these seemingly contradictory views of the American consumer are not mutually exclusive, and in fact follow directly from economic models of imperfect information. Examples of U.S. food industry practices, both historical and in the ongoing public debate over the causes of the obesity epidemic, serve to illustrate a broader phenomenon: when large industrial producers take steps to limit the information available to consumers, a market breakdown can occur in which low-quality products dominate the market. As a result, consumer welfare and–in the case of food–public health suffers. This would seem to represent a clear instance of the phenomenon known as “deep capture,” in which powerful commercial interests attempt to influence conventional wisdoms that might affect industry profits.
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