Sweet Drinks Advertised Deceptively

Sweet Drinks

I just read an interesting article about how beverage manufacturers advertise sweet drinks directly to children. This advertising, along with lower prices, steers consumers to those products. This is aided by deceptive labeling on bottles that confuse parents.

When children consume sweet drinks, they become unhealthier. There is no question about the link between poor diet and health. There is also no question that advertising works. Advertising designed to make a product appealing to a child does so. Labeling designed to fool people does so.

The question the article poses is if government has any role in all of this. I’ve certainly written about the role of government in sweet drinks in the past. Taxes were my topic of discussion at that time but today I want to talk more about regulation.

Regulating Sweet Drinks

As a Libertarian I’m not as opposed to regulation as you might think. I think false and misleading advertising definitely fall under the purview of criminality and the government. The problem is that we have laws to prevent false labeling and false advertising and, as usual, manufacturers find ways to bypass those laws.

It’s incredibly difficult to create an effective law to modify human behavior. We often see a law designed with the best intentions ending up being more harmful than that which it purports to stop. We need go no further than the War on Drugs to see this.

Deceptive Advertising and Labeling

If we examine the picture included in this blog you see Glaceau vitamin water with a label clearly reading Naturally Sweetened. We also see a wonderful reference to electrolytes which any fan of Idiocracy will appreciate. A perusal of the nutritional content on the back reveals a large amount of sugar in the drinks.

What is naturally anyway? If companies are not allowed to use the world naturally or electrolytes, they will find other deceptive words, it’s an endless cat and mouse game. That’s the problem with trying to regulate human behavior, be it through the War on Drugs or buzzwords like Organic and Naturally.

Companies will find ways around your rules.

The Goal

What we want is people to have healthier diets. If people have healthier diets, it is good for our society. Our healthcare system is largely broken. In part because of the enormous number of unhealthy people in this country. People, particularly poor people in rural areas, need the services of Doctors without Borders as if we were a Third World Country. I hesitate to use the words “as if” but I don’t want to get into that debate today.

The Solution

The manufacturer loves obfuscating the product and does so with misleading labels and advertising that comes right to the edge of legality. No matter how much we try to regulate this, companies will find a way.

I’m convinced the most helpful remedies to the problem lie with us, with the store owner. Don’t stock sweet drinks on the same shelf as unsweetened drinks is one that comes to my mind. One shelf is marked Sweetened and the other marked Unsweetened. If the store owner refuses, if the manufacturer pays extra to be on a certain shelf, there’s not much to be done, unfortunately.

I don’t think there are magical solutions to these problems but I also think individuals can focus on both informing the consumer and making the world a better place. Go to your local grocer and ask if they’ll separate the sweet drinks onto their own shelf, the worst that can happen is you’re told no.

Tom Liberman

Billions Spent on Paperless Vet Software – No Results

Software DevelopmentThere was an interesting story this morning in the news about how several software development projects for the government burned through billions of dollars and produced no results.

Basically the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs wanted to create a single system to keep track of their healthcare records. The reason for the need to make this sort of unified system is that currently dozens of pieces of software don’t communicate with one another and this leads to long delays for veterans seeking medical care. When you need medical care a long delay is not merely a nuisance, it can be a life-threatening issue.

I work for a company that does software development and I wanted to talk to a few of our developers before I wrote this blog. I thought that it couldn’t be that hard to create a database driven tool. Certainly, I imagined, scanning in all the old paper records would be quite time-consuming and cost much in the way of salary for the people doing it, but the software itself couldn’t be that complex.

I was sort of right. The complexity of such software is immense because they are trying to replace dozens of different systems, all with their own record retention quirks. Transferring the existing records requires tremendous attention to detail. In addition the ability of the systems to sort through perhaps hundreds of billions of records is apparently no easy trick for any software. We work with one client who has an enormous amount of data and their aging database system can take five minutes to retrieve a piece of information. If you take five minutes of computer time and then imagine every single vet making a claim at that moment; it’s easy to see how it would quickly cause a system to collapse.

That being said, the developers I spoke with said the problem was most likely the government took the bid from the wrong company. That a software developer used to working with massive amounts of data probably made a realistic bid on how long it was going to take and how much money would be needed. They were likely underbid by a company that did not understand the complexity of what was involved, and offered a low bid.

I don’t know for a fact that this is what happened but it certainly seems likely as the software was eventually completely scrapped.

Money was spent and nothing was gained. Now they will either have to rebid the entire project or simply give up because there isn’t money in the budget to complete the task. This means that veterans waiting for adjudication on their claims will continue to wait, the wait will get progressively get longer, and the chance for errors progressively higher.

I’ve written before about how the low-bid system is extremely detrimental to honest companies who simply try to provide a good product at a fair price. I’ve mentioned before that bribery in the bidding process is rampant both from government workers and the contractors hoping to get the bid.

A company makes an artificially low bid, collects billions and provides nothing, declares bankruptcy, the executives cash their checks and move on, taxpayers foot the bill, while congressmen buy a new house with the kickback money.

The government is so large that billions of dollars are stolen without a second thought. The money is so immense as to make even an honorable person compromise his principles. What would you do for a billion dollars? Be honest.

The simple, easy solution? There isn’t one, despite what most pundits say.

In my newest novel the companions are contemplating an immense task and are advised by General Yumanar; Those who attempt to move a mountain will always fail. Those who start by lifting a single rock eventually succeed.

And thus I write my blog, my novels.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a full length eBook)
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt