NPR logo Forget Commerce, Focus On Consumers


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Consumer advocate Jamie Court argues that commerce in America won't be robust until we plug a conspicuous hole in the president's cabinet. He says what the U.S. really needs is a secretary for consumers.

Mr. JAMIE COURT (Consumer Advocate): If consumer confidence and consumer spending is what will get America's economy moving, then why isn't there a consumer advocate in the cabinet? Wall Street and the banks have their Treasury secretary. The rest of the Fortune 500 are represented by the commerce post.

Lockheed has the Pentagon. Even labor unions have a labor secretary, but the consumer has no seat at the table in the cabinet room or the entire West Wing. Is it any wonder consumers have no confidence anymore? We don't even get a seat near the president. Sure, we'll hear from the Consumer Product Safety Commission when the light bulb in our kids' Easy-Bake oven burns the dog.

The FDA might tell us that the stuff that cures our headaches could destroy our liver. And yeah, we can tell our nightmares about cell phone hell to the FCC, if we can get through. None of this truly inspires consumer confidence. If we consumers had a secretary of consumer affairs who reported directly to the president, then the trillion dollar bailout of the banks might've included a national cap on how much any bailed out bank could charge a consumer in interest.

Really? Why should a bank propped up by the taxpayers, which receives zero percent loans from Uncle Sam be able to charge 20 percent on their credit cards? Now try making that argument in the cabinet room without a consumer affairs secretary. The only person who could bring it up would be the guy delivering the sandwiches.

The idea of a separate consumer representation agency, one that does not make regulation, but protects consumers from the other agencies, was last debated during the Carter administration. Well, now that corporations are on their backs and asking for handouts, how about a little something for the consumer in return?

What better stimulus for the bottom-up participatory government and economy that President Obama promised than making the consumer part of the economic recovery discussion at the highest level, not simply the subject of it. Even better, it won't cost much, which is good, since there isn't much taxpayer money left.

BLOCK: Jamie Court is president of the nonprofit advocacy group Consumer Watchdog. You can comment on this essay at the opinion section of

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