A Free-Market Journey
While running errands last week, I was witness to an interesting phenomenon twice over. First, I passed a Walgreens that used yard placards to advertise $35 camp and sports physicals at their in-store clinics. Amazing! How rarely it is that one sees medical services competitively advertised with the true price right up front. Plus, it looks like customers can walk right in without insurance and without appointments, much like going to a restaurant and paying for a meal.
On the topic of food, my next stop along my journey was to grab a bite to eat at Bread Co. While scanning the menu on the wall, I noticed something I hadn’t ever seen before in Missouri the calorie counts of all the food posted right next to the offerings. Amazing again! Free information at my disposal to make a decision about my health.
Why get excited over something so mundane? For one, there was a free exchange of useful information. The price system much like the nutritional information system is an amazing way of communicating information quickly and accurately. Second, in both instances the information was freely provided. Missouri restaurants, unlike some in New York City, are not required by law to include caloric information on their menus. But businesses here are still free to post that information as upfront as they’d like.
Best of all, businesses that choose to be more open with their information freely elect to bear the costs of collecting that information. The burden is usually on the customer to sort out the nutritional value of her food, but in some cases it may be in a restaurant’s business interest to display information more explicitly, or even to be more charitable. The result is a free and fair exchange of information or money that leaves both parties better off.
Ultimately, the most fascinating part of my journey was the fact that the businesses and I were free to choose. The businesses chose to offer certain services and bear those costs in the hope of attracting or retaining more customers. For my part, I could have purchased a sports physical if I wanted, but I didn’t need to. I could have purchased the healthiest sandwich on the menu, or the least healthy. I could have ignored the caloric content completely, and ordered dessert for dinner. No one got to tell me what to order, and I could have left the restaurant altogether if I had wanted. Information freely available at my disposal helped shape my decisions.
As usual, the more freedom and information we have as a society, the better choices we can make for ourselves and those we care about. And that’s always something to get excited about.