Consumer Protection: Gains and Setbacks

February 17, 1978

Report Outline
Concern for Consumer Rights
Activities of Nader Groups
Future of American Consumerism
Special Focus

Concern for Consumer Rights

Assessing Important Marketplace Gains

The American consumer movement has grown from virtually nothing 15 years ago to an established force for change today. There have been notable successes, such as the many federal laws and regulatory-agency rulings on consumer matters. But the movement also has been frustrated by a number of setbacks in recent years, including Congress's refusal to enact legislation setting up a federal consumer protection agency. In light of the setbacks, some wonder whether the consumer movement will ever again be as powerful and effective as it was in the late 1960s and early 1970s. “To assess such an amorphous thing as the consumer movement is not easy,” Arthur E. Rowse, editor of Consumer Newsweekly, wrote recently. “There is no yardstick of progress. One can merely list gains and losses while trying to spot causes.”

Many consumer advocates say that Jimmy Carter's election has been a significant gain for the consumer movement. Carter spoke out strongly for consumer issues during the presidential campaign. He stressed his support for a strong government agency to represent consumers. In his presentation to the Democratic Party Platform Committee at the nominating convention, Carter called for “major reforms to protect the consumers of this country.” A nationwide program of consumer education and vigorous enforcement of the nation's antitrust laws were two other Carter campaign promises.

During his first year in office, Carter placed some 60 former consumer and public interest activists in important positions in the government, a move highly praised by consumer groups. In his State of the Union Address, delivered Jan. 19, 1978, Carter again said he was “strongly committed” to legislation creating a federal consumer protection agency. But despite White House support, the House voted down the measure on Feb. 8. White House Press Secretary Jody Powell said the following day, “It was a case of the best efforts on the part of the administration not being able to overcome some very organized and effective opposition” from business groups. Powell promised that “administration efforts on behalf of the consumer…will continue and intensify.”

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