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An Idea So Good, It Must Be Mandated

Is there a special award for someone who lays out a lengthy argument in support of some law, and then yanks the rug out from under himself at the very end? Consider this letter in today's Wall St. Journal from Edgar Dworsky, head of Consumer World. Mr. Dworsky, a former Mass. assistant attorney general, defends a state law that requires groceries to mark prices on every individual item they sell. He devotes over 10 column-inches to explaining how convenient individually price-marked items are for shoppers, and how little it costs storekeepers. Perhaps that's true, perhaps not. But then Mr. Dworsky concludes with this zinger: "Does it cost money to mark prices on goods? Certainly. The real question is whether consumers are willing to pay that price in return for the benefits that price stickers provide. In Massachusetts, the answer is a resounding 'yes.'" Well, if the real question is indeed consumer willingness to pay, then why does the state need to mandate price-marking? Wouldn't some groceries price-mark on their own and thus cater to the hordes of Massachusetts shoppers who are supposedly happy to pay the higher prices entailed by price-marking? I can understand arguing that something needs to be mandated because people won't pay for it (though I'm often dubious about such laws). But arguing that government needs to mandate something involving personal convenience, that can be privately supplied and for which consumers are "resoundingly" willing to pay, strikes me as totally crazy. It deserves a prize.