The Consumer Choice Center: A Lobby for consumers
A Freedom Today conversation with Fred Roeder of the CCC
Why did you decide to launch the Consumer Choice Center?
Back in 2014 i lived in Berlin and started loving the recently started services by the ride sharing company Uber. But just after a few months of service taxi drivers across Europe decided to go on a massive strike to protest the new competition. Part of this strike was a large manifestation in front of the Olympic Stadium In Berlin. A motorcade of 1,000 taxis drove towards the stadium. That morning me and two friends decided to go to that manifestation in order to show flag for our right as consumers to pick the ride of our choice. We went to a copy shop and printed some A3-sized signs saying “Taxi monopoly is so yesterday” and “Uber on!” Our little stunt got wide media attention and the taxi drivers went so crazy that Police had to escort us away from the angry taxi drivers. That day I realized that there’s no organized lobby for consumers that love choice. At the same time companies weren’t used to support consumers to drive policies that would benefits both: consumers and innovators.
After two years of running some campaigns for choice and against the Nanny State within Students For Liberty we decided to take this consumers advocacy to the next level and founded the Consumer Choice Center.
With Yael Ossowski and David Clement in North America and Luca Bertoletti and me in Europe we aimed to create a consumer group that actually cares about our desire to freely choose.
Students For Liberty was tremendously important to get this launched. Their support and trust helped us to focus on this new project.
So whom does the Consumer Choice Center represent?
Broadly we represent the silent majority of consumers that feel confident making their own choices. Those who are fed up with regulatory overreach. Consumers who would benefit from innovation such as home sharing or harm reducing technologies if they wouldn’t be banned by paternalistic policies.
Over the past two years we got support from millions of social media users who watch, like, and share our work in the web. We also got endorsed by policy makers from Europe, North- and South America and more and more regulators including the European Commission are curious about our work and invite us to help shaping consumer friendly policies.
According to representative polls we have conducted in several countries the vast majority of consumers prefer choice. And this is was the Consumer Choice Center stands for.
We also just launched a new program that allows consumers to support the CCC through annual membership fees and become card-carrying Consumer Choice Center supporters.
Who funds the Consumer Choice Center?
That is an important and frequently asked question. We are very transparent about our funding: Most of our funding comes from private businesses, family foundations also fund our work, and more and more consumers start supporting us with small but important donations.
Don’t you see a conflict of interest being co-funded by companies?
We do have a code of ethics that strictly separates our fundraising efforts and editorial decisions. A Chinese Wall between donors and editorial decisions allows us to remain fully independent from corporate interests. For the sake of transparency we publish all industries that support us in our website.
Have you ever said “No” to a potential donor?
Yes, we have to do that very regularly as often the expectation of donors is that they can just pay us for spreading their issues but this is not how we work. We only promote issues that enable and increase consumer choice. We aren’t interested in picking winners. This is something consumers have to do on the marketplace and not lobbyists or politicians. We turn down nearly half of funding proposals we receive. Everything else would cause mission creep and would destroy what we have built up with the Consumer Choice Center in the past.
What has the Consumer Choice Center achieved so far?
We have several campaigns I am particularly proud of. In Ontario, Canada we helped to allow private retail of recreational Cannabis and thus give the black market a much harder time come April 2019. We helped to prevent a piece of regulation that would have massively increased airline ticket prices in the United States. In 2017 we helped to delay a sneaking branding ban in the Republic of Georgia by five years. That same year we successfully campaigned against a soft drink tax in the city of Montreal. Right now we are working on creating a true single market for digital services and infrastructure in Europe. Consumers traveling between countries would benefit a lot from this: Just think that every European country has a different fee system for digital rights which makes it so hard to stream abroad. My colleague Bill Wirtz does currently also great work on liberalizing the European bus market.
What currently excites you the most in your work with the Consumer Choice Center?
Two issues I am very passionate about right now are self driving cars and littering laws. We could safe thousands of lives in Europe if we would pass legislation that allows self driving cars given that most deadly accidents are caused by human error. The entire world currently debates bans on single use plastics in order to clean up the oceans. What is not much mentioned in that debate is that Europe and the US combined cause merely 2% of marine pollution and most of it is caused by a few emerging markets such as China and India. Enforcing property rights in these countries would have an actual impact on marine pollution whereas symbolic bans in Europe and the US will merely cause unintended consequences but not clean up the oceans. I live in the UK which has a very progressive approach towards tobacco harm reduction which allows millions of nicotine consumers to switch to safer alternatives such as electronic cigarettes or heat not burn products. I recently traveled to Brazil to meet up with our new staffer Andre Freo and had to learn that these products are banned in Brazil since 2009. By legalizing novel nicotine products tens of millions of Brazilian smokers would have less harmful alternatives. It is insane that governments prevent people from accessing safer products. This is something that gets me out of bed every morning. If we don’t fight for our right to choose we have no right to complain about paternalism. Our Senior Fellow Jeff Stier has done great work on this in the United States and Israel.
Where else do you see consumer choice being attacked?
A simple but frightening example in many liberal democracies is the power of the public health lobby. Freedom of speech and brands are being limited with the argument that this is good for public health. We got so far a wide coalition of European policy makers in the BrandsMatter Group that pledged to defend consumers’ rights to enjoy brands.
The recent discussion on taxing red meat and banning milkshakes in the UK are other examples of public health overreacting to studies on toxicity of total fine products and reports on obesity levels. If you look at government data you will actually see that calorie intake has constantly declined in the past 5 decades in Western countries. The problem is that people don’t exercise enough. Maria Chaplia and our fellow Richard Mason have done some great work on these issues. I am really happy that we have more and more smart consumer advocates joining us and raising the voice and profile of the Consumer Choice Center.
In the past twelve months we have been quoted and published in outlets such as The Telegraph, Die Welt, Le Monde, Politico, USA Today, The Washington Post, Toronto Star, the Express, The Guardian, FoxNews, And The New York Times. Consumers have finally a voice and we are keen to take this to the next level.
Thank you for the Interview Fred Roeder, Managing Director of the Consumer Choice Center