Subject: Re: Brand name aspirin
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <turnbull@sk.tsukuba.ac.jp>
Date: Tue, 12 Oct 1999 11:05:17 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "rn" == Russell Nelson <nelson@crynwr.com> writes:

    rn> Brian Bartholomew writes:

    >> In my perfect world, advertising something as better when you
    >> (the brand name drug company) know it's identical, and
    >> advertising something as a special when you (the store) know it
    >> isn't, would be trade fraud.

    rn> And in the meantime there's money to be made by establishing a
    rn> reputation for honesty.  It worked for the Quakers of the 17th
    rn> and 18th centuries.  They set out to good and did very well.

    rn> Don't whine, Brian

That's an editorial opinion :-)

As usual in matters of economics, it's a question of allocation and
balance.  There are costs of working with information; Brian says "the 
store knows," but they may very well not.  (I think most businessmen,
let alone accounting professors, would consider that "incompetence,"
but many businesses would not know, and that's a true fact.)  You can
track the price of inputs of course, but there are important data you
cannot know (like the fact that DJ's cellular metabolism can read
brand names but not ingredient lists ;-), and those do have an
important bearing on pricing decisions, whether Brian likes that or
not (he didn't a couple of months ago).

I don't think even Russ [sic :] would want laws against swindling
widows and orphans repealed.  So the issue is balance: where do you
place the responsibility for verifying information so that as much of
the relevant data is correctly integrated at the lowest total cost
(ie, including enforcement costs, both direct and via perverse
incentive) to providers and customers?

I, myself, think "Brian's perfect world" would suck vigorously on the
cost dimension.  It will occur naturally when we all achieve
enlightenment, and won't come before.  The current labeling laws are
an amazingly good compromise, considering the source (Congress) ;-).

I only wish Japan had something similar.  Basically, here all you need
to do is label those ingredients which are on the regulator's list.
(Soft drinks needn't mention caffeine, for example, and many herbal
remedies don't list chemical names of ingredients at all, although
many include rather powerful naturally occuring drugs.)  Here, I drink
Coke because they haven't lost the US habit, and at least I know how
I'm poisoning myself.  (And after Tokaimura I've started glowing in
the dark, anyway :-/ )

It is an important point that with open source an educated customer
can find out "just how she's poisoning her business," and share that
information with others.  There's one of Russ's business opportunities.

If we want to capitalize on that, maybe we could give some thought to
documentation standards that would make that easier.  Eg, some
complicated programs (XEmacs) provide "developers'" (application-level
Lisp code) and "internals" (low-level Lisp and C code) manuals.
Customers who aren't yet thinking of _changing_ the code might find
those useful in evaluating the quality of design and implementation.


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