Government Protection of the Consumer

Government Protection of the Consumer

American used to operate under the assumption that it was the consumer’s obligation to protect them self against unfair business practices. The motto of the day was “E Caveat Emptor,” or Let the Buyer Beware. Today this is no longer the case. Ever since the Progressive Era and the efforts of muckrakers like Upton Sinclair, the government has played an increasing role in protecting the consumer.

As civilized society has developed, the dangers we face are increasingly of our own making poisonous chemicals, polluted air, automobile accidents, defective products. And as the nature of the dangers has changed, so has the way we respond. We have increasingly looked to government to protect us from man-made dangers that we feel incapable of protecting ourselves from. One dangerous place in modern society is the highway.

Over 50,000 people are killed in automobile accidents in the US. each year. In order to reduce the death and injury rate, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has required automobile manufacturers to provide certain safety features such as seat belts, standards for bumpers, and secure fuel tanks. The DOT conducts crash tests on new car models to determine which ones give the passengers the most protection.



Agencies that regulate specific industries:

Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) – 1887 – Railroads, trucking, pipelines, barges, express carriers

Federal Reserve Board (FRB) – 1913 – Banks

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)- 1913 – Interstate Trade

Federal Power Commission (FPC) – 1930 – Public utilities

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – 1931 – Food, drugs, cosmetics

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – 1934 – Radio, television, telephone, telegraph

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – 1967 – Airline safety

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – 1970 – Motor vehicles

Agencies that regulate specific functions:

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) – 1934 – Sales of securities

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) – 1935 – Labor-management relations

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – (EEOC) – 1964 Hiring practices

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – 1970 – Pollution of the environment

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – 1971 – Conditions in workplaces

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) – 1972 – Design and labeling of goods

One of the most important government agencies dealing with product safety is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If products are found to be unsafe, the FDA has the power to order them off the market. The agency conducts tests on prepared foods to find out if any of the ingredients are cancer-causing. No new drugs may be put on the market without the FDAs approval.

Another federal agency concerned with consumer safety is the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which issued a recall of asbestos-insulated hair dryers, put an end to the use of benzene in paint removers, banned the use of Tris, cancer-causing flame retardant in children’s clothing-and required that slats on baby cribs be set closer together to prevent strangulation.

There are government agencies not only to protect our health, but to protect our pocketbooks. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) tries to prevent deceptive advertising. These are called Truth in Advertising laws. It has made producers of aspirin pills, diet breads, toothpastes, cigarettes, and numerous other products either prove their claims or change their advertisements. The FTC also has the power to issue what is known as a “cease and desist” order. This powerful tool allows the FTC to halt any unfair business practices.

To protect the interests of investors and provide more stability to the financial markets, the Securities and Exchange Commission was set up in 1934 to regulate the stock market. It requires full disclosure of a company’s financial condition when new stock is issued, and has helped eliminate stock swindles.

In recent years there has been legislation requiring financial institutions and companies extending credit to provide the borrower with complete information about the true interest charges and payment conditions. These are called Truth in Lending Laws. In some states, customers are allowed to cancel certain kinds of purchase contracts within a few days after signing them. Some of the types

of contracts which can be canceled are land purchases in undeveloped land promotions and contracts signed with door-to-door salespeople. These laws are designed to protect consumers from being manipulated into hasty, unwise decisions by high-pressure sales techniques.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) gave the Labor Department the power and responsibility to set standards for the workplace to protect workers from work-caused injury and illness. Since 1972, the first full year of OSHA operation, job fatalities have been reduced 10% and disabling injuries have declined from one for every 34 workers to one for every 43 workers during the year.

Essay - Safeguarding the Consumer: A Critical Examination of the U.S. Government’s Protective Measures

Consumer protection is a cornerstone of a robust and fair market economy, fostering trust among participants and ensuring equitable transactions. The U.S. government has meticulously curated a framework that aims to safeguard consumer interests through the implementation of numerous laws, regulations, and agencies dedicated to this cause. In navigating through the complex economic landscape, understanding these mechanisms is paramount. This essay explores the various avenues through which the U.S. government protects consumers, meticulously evaluating their efficacy and highlighting areas necessitating improvement.

Historical Context

Early Efforts

At the dawn of the 20th century, amidst growing concerns regarding the safety and quality of consumer goods, the U.S. government initiated its journey of consumer protection. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 marked a significant milestone, laying the groundwork for future legislation by prohibiting the sale of misbranded or adulterated food and drugs. This act, driven by shocking revelations regarding unsanitary and unethical practices in the food and drug industries, underscored the government’s commitment to ensuring the welfare of its citizens.

Post-War Expansion

In the aftermath of World War II, the burgeoning U.S. economy witnessed a proliferation of consumer goods and services, necessitating an expansion of consumer protection measures. The market complexity intensified, creating an imperative for comprehensive regulation and oversight to prevent deceptive and unfair practices. During this period, landmark legislation was enacted, including the Consumer Credit Protection Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. These laws reflected the evolving needs of consumers and laid the foundation for modern consumer protection infrastructure.

Key Legislation

Consumer Credit Protection Act (1968)

In 1968, the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) was enacted to safeguard consumers in credit transactions by promoting transparency and fairness. Its provisions include the requirement for clear disclosure of loan terms and cost, thus empowering consumers to make informed decisions. One pivotal title under the CCPA is the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), which mandates creditors to provide detailed information regarding the cost of credit. Through TILA, consumers are better equipped to compare credit offers, leading to more competitive and fair credit markets.

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (1977)

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) of 1977 offers consumers protection from abusive or deceptive practices by debt collectors. It establishes ethical guidelines for the collection of consumer debts, restricting the means and hours during which collectors may contact debtors. Violations of these regulations incur severe penalties, making the FDCPA a potent tool in preserving consumers’ rights and dignity in the face of debt.

Consumer Product Safety Act (1972)

To address concerns regarding the safety of consumer products, the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) was enacted in 1972. It led to the creation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an independent agency tasked with regulating the sale and manufacture of more than 15,000 types of consumer products. Through the CPSA and CPSC, consumers are shielded from unreasonable risks of injuries and death associated with consumer products.

Regulatory Agencies

The subsequent section will delve into the roles and functions of significant regulatory agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Each agency plays a unique and crucial role in overseeing and enforcing consumer protection laws, thereby ensuring that the rights and interests of consumers are upheld in various market sectors.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

Established in 1914, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is integral in protecting consumers from deceptive and unfair business practices. The FTC’s mandate covers a wide range, including prevention of false advertising, online scam monitoring, and enforcement of antitrust laws. With the advent of the digital age, the FTC has been pivotal in addressing privacy concerns and ensuring online businesses adhere to consumer protection principles.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

The CFPB was inaugurated in 2011, following the 2008 financial crisis, to offer consumers a shield against predatory practices prevalent in the financial sector. The Bureau oversees financial products and services, ensuring they are fair, transparent, and accessible. It handles consumer complaints, conducts financial education, and enforces consumer protection laws, playing a significant role in maintaining the integrity of the financial markets.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

The FDA, established in 1906, safeguards public health by regulating the safety of foods, prescription and over-the-counter medications, and other health-related products. It sets forth stringent standards that manufacturers must meet to ensure their products are safe and effective for consumption or use. Through its regulatory framework, the FDA significantly contributes to protecting consumers from health risks associated with various products.

Challenges and Criticisms

Regulatory Overreach

While government intervention is necessary for consumer protection, critics argue that excessive regulation may stifle innovation and create undue burdens for businesses. The compliance costs associated with navigating through a complex web of regulations can be particularly daunting for small enterprises, potentially hindering their growth and competitiveness.

Inefficiency and Bureaucracy

Despite the noble intentions behind consumer protection laws and agencies, there is criticism regarding their efficiency and bureaucratic structure. Critics point out that the cumbersome processes and red tape often delay action and impede the swift addressal of consumer grievances.


Consumer protection is undeniably central to a healthy, functioning market economy. Through a tapestry of laws, regulations, and agencies, the U.S. government strives to strike a balance between fostering a pro-business environment and safeguarding consumer rights. While challenges and criticisms exist, the established framework significantly contributes to protecting consumers from potential exploitation and risks in the marketplace. The continuous refinement and strengthening of this framework are imperative to adapt to the evolving economic landscape and emerging consumer needs.

Frequently Asked Questions About US Government's Protection of the Consumer.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a regulatory agency established in 2011 under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Its primary role is to protect consumers from unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices and actions in the financial sector. The CFPB oversees financial institutions, lenders, and other financial service providers to ensure compliance with consumer protection laws. It also educates consumers about their rights, handles consumer complaints about financial products or services, and enforces laws that ensure consumers receive fair treatment from financial entities.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) plays a pivotal role in consumer protection by preventing deceptive and unfair business practices. Through its Bureau of Consumer Protection, the FTC works to stop unfair, deceptive, and fraudulent business practices by collecting complaints and conducting investigations, developing rules to protect consumers, and educating the public about their rights and responsibilities. The FTC also enforces a variety of federal antitrust and consumer protection laws, ensuring that business competition is fair and open, and consumers have access to truthful information in the marketplace.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) offers protections to consumers from abusive practices by debt collectors. Under the FDCPA, debt collectors are prohibited from engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices while collecting debts. They cannot call consumers before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., harass or abuse them, make false statements, or use unfair practices to collect a debt. Consumers have the right to request verification of debt and may dispute it. If a consumer believes a debt collector has violated the FDCPA, they have the right to sue in a state or federal court.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety and efficacy of foods, dietary supplements, prescription and over-the-counter medications, vaccines, biopharmaceuticals, medical devices, blood transfusions, radiation-emitting devices, and other products. The FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition oversees the safety of the nation’s food supply and cosmetics, and it regulates dietary supplements. Through rigorous testing, research, and surveillance, the FDA ensures that products reaching consumers adhere to established safety standards, thereby protecting public health.

Consumer protection agencies often face criticisms related to regulatory overreach, inefficiency, and bureaucracy. Critics argue that excessive regulations may stifle business innovation and create significant compliance costs, particularly for small businesses. These agencies also face challenges related to bureaucratic inefficiencies, with critics highlighting delays in decision-making processes and the handling of consumer complaints. However, proponents argue that these agencies play a vital role in safeguarding consumers from unfair and deceptive practices, ensuring a fair and safe marketplace for all.