Advertising in a Free Society

I’ve just finished reading this wonderful book, Advertising in a Free Society, written by Ralph Harris and Arthur Seldon in 1959 and recently edited by Chris Snowdon.

My day job is in the advertising industry, so I was massively geeking out over advertising AND free markets, all in one place.

I encourage you to read the book online, or do as I did and pick up a copy from the IEA.

The whole book is very sound, but the concluding pages include some pure gold:

“We must recall that it is not the duty of the government in a free society to relieve individuals of the responsibility for spending (or saving) their money and accepting the consequences. There is always room for argument about where the lines should be drawn between public and private initiative, but it must be clear that the continuous extension of government control threatens to rob personal responsibility of substance and significance. Well-meaning attempts to remedy defects in our economic institutions have often aggravated the original trouble and provided excuses for still more restrictions that usually burdened consumers with higher prices or restricted their choice. The history of tariffs, rent restriction, betting and licensing provide examples of policies that proved easier to adopt when there seemed good reason for them than to abolish when they had outlived their day. On the contrary, a society shows itself to be free to the degree that it widens the range of choices, despite the risks.

“There is still much that is irritating, vulgar, or otherwise objectionable about advertising, but so long as people value the freedom to buy what pleases them, they should not be too quick to complain about advertising and salesmanship: the coin that has the sovereign consumer on one side carries the image of the salesman on the other. Salesmanship, both commercial and political, is universally practised in free societies and distinguishes them from tyrannies where personal choice, again both commercial and political, is confined to taking or leaving what suits those in control.


“The citizen of a free society must keep his wits about him and make his own decisions. All the help that can be devised for him – the trademarks, kitemarks, informative labels, consumer advice, education and warning – are road signs and signposts to guide him on his way, not to tell him what his destination should be. In the last resort he must be the master of his fate. He must weigh what he is told by advertisers, traders, politicians and neighbours, and discard what he finds wanting, particularly when any of them are seeking his custom or support. That is the privilege, and the price, of freedom.”