Should You Be Allowed to Buy Plastic Fish Brake Lights?

I am a firm believer in consumer choice — an individual’s utility and society’s economic welfare are maximized if people are free to buy whatever they want (so long as others are not forced to sell it to them).

Nonetheless, an amazing number of egregiously nonsensical devices are marketed because people (for some reason) have preferences for them and are willing to pay the going price.

Yesterday I saw a good candidate for the most nonsensical good on the market.

The car in front of me braked; in addition to the brake lights two lights appeared in the eyes of a plastic fish that had been wired to the brake-light mechanism, and the fish’s tail waggled back and forth too.

In addition to a price of $24.99 and shipping cost, it took the owner’s valuable time to install the device. I imagine everyone has his/her own example of something as silly, but my prize goes to this one.

Nonetheless, while I question the owner’s taste and good sense, I don’t question their right to throw away their money on this device — and nobody should question my right to spend my money on a BluRay player, which will surely give me lots of consumer surplus even at today’s high price.


About the argument that fish might distract drivers and that they are dangerous:

There’s a lot of stuff that can distract drivers. The fish seems like a very small distraction. Drivers can be distracted by beautiful people walking alongside the street, by ugly people doing the same thing, by billboards, by kids in the backseat,… The list is endless. If we can trust drivers not to be distracted by all these things, there is no need to make an exception for silly fish.


I saw one of those in on a truck in front of me the other day. And I thought 3 things

1. Creepy

2. Distracting to other drivers

3. Stupid

I thought only I was being inconvienced by seeing them since I live in what I'd consider a "hick-town." Apparently the disease of such random, useless, and annoying junk has spread. It's a sad day for the US.


People have such individual taste that is it would be impossible to determine what products would be alright to have. One man's treasure is another man's garbage. I personally think it we could get rid of all that extra crap people put on their cars, neon lights, rear wings, extra big tires. But there are some people who thinks this is a great way to spiff up a car. If the product was defective however, I think they should be forced to take them of the market.

Gregory Kluck

So Stephen de las Heras, if I came into your home would I find no items of entertainment or hobbies or collections of any kind? I mean, they as well serve no purpose except to distract us in our pursuit of saving the planet and probably cause environmental damage when made or disposed of.


One question I haven't seen addressed here yet:

Did the fish light in any way interfere with your ability to see when this person was hitting his breaks?

If so, he has created a menace to himself and others. He needs to be cited by the highway patrol and the fish light should be banned.

If not, than who are we to judge how someone else decides to spend their money? He's not harming anyone. Every one us has spent our money on something that our neighbors would call useless junk. If he wants this thing and he's willing to pay for it, he's entitled to it.

EssBee, Miracle Mile

The fish brake light is the dullest of the bunch...if I had a 2" ball hitch (happily, this is not an accessory my Camry nor my lifestyle needs!) I'd get the Bad Dog in a hot minute. What a hoot! It's a Petey-type dog (Little Rascals canine) who appears to be attacking the ball of the hitch!

I reserve the right to buy the occasional tchotchke 'cause I am child-free, as are my sibs, reducing the need for buying-buying-buying by a factor of about 1000%.


Seriously, I didn't know what truck nuts were... I never thought anyone would... I need to set my expectations lower.

And now I've just googled 'truck nuts' from work...


during this whole discussion of absurd things to buy for your vehicle that may cause safety or harm I am surprised that no one has mentioned "spinner" rims, hubcaps - LED or not


That "line" about what can and can't be sold is already being fought.

Alabama bans the sale of any sex toys. You can own a gun, but not a dildo, although the same statute was struck down in Texas. Right now there is still a debate about whether or not states can legislate based on morality alone

If the Supreme Court gets any more "conservative", expect a lot more cases to be favor the morality clause. Then, what you can and cannot buy may be determined by "morals" and religious feelings of the legislative body. This is a very scary thought for people who differ in believe systems with their legislative branch. Much like the previous argument of "where do you draw the line?" this reasoning could lead us down a bath of Christian Sharia where religious beliefs dictate what can and can't be bought or done.

El Christador

"When did you last see a pack of new Marlboro Greens (a.k.a. Marlboro marijuana cigarettes), or Weedies Cereal at the grocery? Have you ever tried buying beer on holidays, or Sundays, in some towns?

Guess we already drew that line."


I've even heard rumours that some places have laws about the sale of crack cocaine and heroin, difficult as it may be to believe. The whole premise of prescription drugs, too, is entirely that it's appropriate to tell people what they may or may not buy.


Stephen de las Heras opined:

"In a society that is serious about conserving energy and protecting the environment the right to own utterly useless items may need to be curtailed."

You're obviously kidding, right?

If Socialism is what you're looking for, the U.S.A. is not the place for you. The implications of your statement border on the absurd. Who defines useless, for starters?

I am amazed every time I hear people utter nonsense like this.


#46 Stephen - The point is, there is always a justification for totalitariarism and despotic governmental control- whether it be social equality, economic parity, enviromental concerns, moral decency, the proverbial african child, whatever - all of these can be used as an excuse - however valid - for the State to enforce its will and stifle its people. The excesses of Torquemada, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Mullah Omar all had very good initial justifications - the best of intentions, each according to his own set of priorities, what's best for mankind.

In fact, one of the best ways for us to take care of this closed-system Earth and reverse the damage we are doing to it is by reducing our own numbers. This would have a far greater effect than banning the manufacture of useless plastic goods. Maybe we can do things like limit each couple to one child, or...

See where this quickly leads?

Convince people. Don't force them.



There's a difference between selling a dangerous and/or harmful substance such as heroin, or cocaine (and to an extent marijuana)" and selling something that has no purpose and seems dumb to own.

I still don't understand no beer sales on Sunday but again it's not a harmless substance.

I also agree truck nuts make that fish seems like a good purchase.


#1 Stephen de las Heras - I agree completely. A centralized governmental authority should be established to tell manufacturers exactly what to produce and what not to produce. In addition, to make sure this works, the decision makers should be anonymous and the enforcers should be armed and have detention powers. And furthermore...


For David (#18)

UT has a fantastic PhD program in Philosophy....which happens to be the department where a great many number of ideas for things we do (and use) today originated.

Just remember that today's science was yesterday's philosophy.



Thanks for the link - although it is a pointless plastic thingie and could distract drivers, the notion that such a thing existed made me smile.

I think it could reduce road rage, by increasing laughter in the lanes (assuming the driver in front is courteous and not a prat.


"Should You Be Allowed to..."

The thing I like about the US Constitution is that it delimits what Congress is allowed to do, not what Americans are allowed to do. Taking on the worldview of a slave is a poor way to enter the race.


Like John #9, I couldn't help but think of the "truck nuts" when I read this post. They were found to be dumb by enough people with influence and ended up outlawed in Florida.

"In a society that is serious about conserving energy and protecting the environment the right to own utterly useless items may need to be curtailed."

I'd like to think I do my share to preserve the environment, but I find this view pretty scary. It's the left equivalent of "save the children" and both are equally nonsensical. Internalize the cost of the environmental damage and let consumers decide if they want to pay the real cost of the good.


Was it a Jesus fish or a Darwin fish?

Let's just hope they don't make a peeing Calvin version.


This was a silly column.

I had thought the fish brake lights represented some kind of potential safety hazard, and your question was going to be about the relative values of consumer choice vs. public safety.

If the man's stupid fish lights aren't hurting anyone, who is anyone else to judge?