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  • Cited by 3
  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: July 2009

4 - Rethinking consumer protection policy

from Part I - Perspectives on consumers' access to justice



While consumer protection policy has an ancient genesis, dating back at least to Roman times with the adoption in Roman law of various implied warranties against latent defects in the sale of goods, the current legislative and regulatory consumer protection framework in most industrialised countries largely finds its genesis in the consumer and more general policy activism of the 1960s and 1970s, during which period most of the major contemporary consumer protection statutes were first enacted or extensively elaborated. As we enter the twenty-first century, pressures on these legal and regulatory regimes are mounting, spurred both by changes in the nature of modern industrial economies and by the evolution of economic theory. In terms of the former, the rapidity of technological change, globalisation and deregulation of formerly regulated monopolies have dramatically expanded the range of consumer products and services available in any given jurisdiction, making product and service-specific regulation increasingly problematic and intensifying the informational challenges faced by consumers. In terms of the latter, a veritable revolution in industrial organisation theory over the past two or three decades, particularly as it relates to market structure, bargaining power and information, has rendered simplistic structure–conduct–performance paradigms that keyed on a small number of variables (such as concentration levels) and that underpin many aspects of contemporary consumer protection policy also increasingly problematic.