CHAPTER FIVE •
think, particularly to the extent that it accelerates the consumption treadmill without making life much better for consumers of most goods. If citizens are reflective about their practices and their lives, they are entirely aware of this fact. As citizens, we might well choose to slow down the treadmill, or to ensure that resources that now keep it moving will be devoted to better uses. And insofar as citizens are attempting to accomplish that worthy goal, the idea of liberty should hardly stand in the way.
Democracy and Preferences
When people's preferences are a product of excessively limited options, there is a problem from the standpoint of freedom, and we do freedom a grave disservice by insisting on respect for preferences. When options are plentiful, things are much better. But there is also a problem, from the standpoint of freedom, when people's past choices lead to the development of preferences that limit their own horizons and their capacity for citizenship.
Consumers are not citizens, and it is a large error to conflate the two. One reason for the disparity is that the process of democratic choice often elicits people's aspirations. When we are thinking about what we as a nation should do-rather than what each of us as consumers should buy-we are often led to think of our larger, long-term goals. We may therefore hope to promote a high-quality communications market even if, as consumers, we seek "infotainment." Within the democratic process, we are also able to act as a group and not limited to our options as individuals. Acting as a group, we are thus in a position to solve various obstacles to dealing properly
with issues that we cannot, without great difficulty, solve on our own.
These points obviously bear on a number of questions outside of the area of communications, such as environmental protection and antidiscrimination law. In many contexts, people, acting in their capacity as citizens, favor measures that diverge from the choices they make in their capacity as consumers. Of course it is important to impose constraints, usually in the form ofrights, on what political majorities may do under this rationale. But if I am correct, one thing is clear: a system of limitless individual choices with respect to communications is not necessarily in the interest of citizenship and self-government, and efforts to reduce the resulting problems ought not to be rejected in freedom's name.