• January 25, 2017

There are almost no advocates in our country or, for that matter, in any industrialized country on earth today, that do not recognize (1) the great strengths of free market capitalism, on the one hand, and (2) the impossibility of unregulated free market capitalism on the other hand.

Regulation is a given. The ubiquitous and spirited disagreements about regulations are matters of degree: how much regulation is too much? We are the same way about “free speech” — universally embraced but not entirely free and hotly disputed at the outer limits (e.g., “flag-burning”)).

And just as we all have to put up with a lot of sickening speech out of respect for our ideal of “free speech,” we have to put up with relentless scamming out of respect for free market capitalism.

We received a recent mailer whose duplicity appalled us.

Is there really no possible regulation and no realistic recourse against devious and shameless hucksters? Must we allow such things as unavoidable and inseparable aspects of our economic system?

The “Yellow Pages United” mailer (linked here, with our highlighting certain parts) leads recipients to believe that it is an address confirmation for the yellow pages. It does so by being clearly labeled “Yellow Pages United” and by having the old and familiar yellow pages logo (“let your fingers do the walking”) in the top left hand corner.

Then, the mailer says in bold caps: “IMPORTANT: DIRECTORY LISTING RETURN IMMEDIATELY.” (Here’s the thing: it is not at all important and there is no urgency.)

Then the mailer prominently lists three easy steps: (1) make sure the information is correct; (2) sign the form; (3) return the form. (Here’s the thing: you have to see the small type to see that doing so will cost you $396.00, you will not be listed in any yellow pages, and you will be automatically renewed in this parasitization “twice per year,” you will have no claim for damages, you have waived any class action resolution of any claim, and your are barred from court in favor of an arbitration clause requiring you to arbitrate in Florida.)

The familiar logo, the false urgency, the hidden cost are fairly obvious deceptions. The illusory nature of any actual value for the so-called “product” is too.

Of course, this mailer undoubtedly was sent to thousands of recipients and the vast majority will discard it. Some percentage, however, will fall into the trap. I expect they will find themselves dealing with debt collectors fighting bills for a worthless product they never meant to buy.

Can it really be that our legal system cannot stamp out pernicious invasive species, like this one, without sacrificing the widely recognized societal benefits of a “free market system”?

Zebra mussel cluster. Photo taken by D. Jude, Univ. of Michigan.

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