Light, as we know it today, is a commodity. That would not have been possible without the institutional prerequisites — freedom to create, own, and exchange — that built the modernity we too often take for granted.
You might observe that this is the free market’s way to co-opt the anti-racist movement on behalf of capitalist profits. But maybe that’s not a criticism. Maybe that’s a way to get the message out and make it more culturally operational.
Overstating how misinformed, unrealistic, and just plain wacky are the economics that underlie these proposals of Sens. Warren and Sanders is impossible. Also impossible to overstate is the amount of damage that enactment of these proposals would inflict on the American economy.
The movement as it was known has been through ups and downs but it has finally settled on what Andrea knew all along. Liberty is a big tent with many iterations. Its roots are not in mass political organizing but in beautiful ideals and dreams of a freer world.
No one created that muddy track; it is the result of individuals going where they want to go. But if enough people walk there, it wears out the grass and makes the ground hard and packed down. The “path” emerges, although no one planned it.
Moral norms that served small bands of humans well 10,000 years ago — share, cooperate, punish anyone who violates the rules — are no longer very good at helping people navigate commercial society. Ask someone about price-gouging laws, or kidney sales, or generally talk about the role of price as an indispensable signal of scarcity. Most people will get upset.
How very appealing was the socialist idea in the late 19th and early (pre-WWI) 20th centuries! All the burdens of life and everyday work, all the seemingly unjust inequalities of material wealth observable in society, and all the uncertainties of health care and old age would be lifted from the weary shoulders of the common man with the arrival of socialism.
Friends of freedom, including many of those who strongly believed in and fought for representative and democratically elected government in the 18th and 19th centuries, often expressed fearful concerns that “democracy” could, itself, become a threat to the liberty of many of the very people that democratic government was supposed to protect from political abuse.
In the old days, people associated the Left with an ethos akin to the ACLU today: the right to speak, publish, and associate. The turn that took place with the New Left actually flipped whatever remaining attachment that the old left had with freedom.
If we are concerned about the rise of the ginormous corporation, and perhaps we should be, why not start with lowering barriers to entry, removing regulations, cutting more taxes, blasting away expensive mandates and litigation landmines? If we work toward a truly laissez-faire environment for business, we could let the market discover the right combination of big, medium, and small that serves consumers best. Piling interventions upon interventions takes us in exactly the wrong direction.
Wharton was the mind that gave the most rich and complex expression of the glory and failings of this fascinating time and place. She clearly loved freedom, and despised impositions on the human personality, which is why she was one of the few literary giants of her time to see the power of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. At the same time, there is no form of freedom that can stamp out the failings of human nature; freedom is a beginning – a necessary foundation with which no human community can do without – for the development of a truly civilized society.
As it turns out, many people have needs that cannot be appreciated or discerned in advance by intellectuals. Many times, they cannot even understand them. This has been obvious since the late 19th century, when the socialist critique of the capitalist market underwent a huge shift. The Marxists had predicted that capitalism would impoverish the working class while enriching the class of capital owners. When that turned out to be obviously false, the critique shifted: now the system was being attacked for providing too much in the way of frivolous luxury goods to the middle class.
Here is what is so amazing. It all happens without any central direction from the top down. In fact, we can go further to say that it could not happen under central direction. No government bureaucrat made this possible. They only get in the way. You need owners, marketers, manufacturers, prices, markets, banks, millions of people, and thousands upon thousands of rounds of trading across dozens of countries, plus many years, decades, and centuries of economic development, all ending in a sweet little healthy snack just for me.
The years between 1890 and the Second World War were the golden age of the American piano. Pianos were the biggest-ticket item on every household budget besides the house itself. Everyone had to have one. Those who didn't have one aspired to have one. It was a prize, an essential part of life, and they sold by the millions and millions. Then it all went away.