Advertisers vs. Teachers

Suppose that commercial advertising increases your demand for advertised products, but at the same time makes you worse off by reducing your ability to appreciate those things that commercial advertisers don’t sell.  Since the harm that you suffer doesn’t affect the advertisers’ profits, they have no incentive to take it into account when choosing their level of advertising.  This is a market failure in the same sense as better known ones like pollution; the fact that the people choosing the level of the activity don’t bear the full costs causes there to be "too much" of it.  This alone strikes me as sufficient reason for a pretty pronounced hostility to persuasive commercial advertising (there are other reasons too), particularly when children are involved, since children are more likely to suffer the ill effects.

But taking this position raises a question.  Children are going to get their ideas from somewhere, so arguing that there should be less advertising persuasion is pretty much tantamount to saying that there should be more of some other kind of persuasion.  Let’s say for argument’s sake that the competitor for the attention of children is their (mostly public school) teachers.  Let’s also stipulate that it is not hard to come up with stories in which teachers won’t do what’s best for kids either.  Maybe they want to teach obediance and so make their own jobs easier, or maybe they want to turn the kids into little clones of themselves, and so on.  But I mostly like teachers, for all their flaws, and mostly think that increasing their influence on kids would be a good thing.  Is there any sound basis for this?  Or is it just bias on my part stemming from the fact that I was raised to respect the kinds of things that teachers are about?

I will offer three defenses for my anti-advertiser, pro-teacher position.  First, teachers’ opportunities to make themselves better off at the expense of children, while not negligible, are for sure much smaller than those of commercial advertisers.  Second, the kinds of people who select into teaching tend to be people who like kids (why else spend all day with them?) and so are naturally inclined to seek their well-being.  Third, teachers are part of a profession that inculcates and supports the adoption of the identity of "teacher," providing a social and emotional infrastructure that makes it easier to perform the (pro-kid) behaviors that the identity prescribes, even when you don’t feel like it.

I didn’t convince Robin.  Did I convince you?  First blog post ever!

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