I have been vexed for years by a simple problem: How to explain to young people who were not taught anything of substance at school why free markets are desirable. You would expect this to not be much of a problem is this overall still capitalist country. When, I try, most of the time, I end up making their eyes glaze over although I am captivating speaker overflowing with charisma.
The difficulty is that the concept of market is counter-intuitive. In everybody’s personal experience, good things generally happen because someone makes them happen: Mom, Dad, the boss, God. The “invisible hand” of the free market is just that, invisible. To understand our economy takes an effort of imagination.
Lack of understanding of markets opens up people, especially young people, to the direct, unsophisticated emotional appeal of government intervention. In many minds again, especially in the young’s, government solves problems and when it does not, problems go unsolved. There is a good reason for this misapprehension of reality: The many good things that the market does, it does undramatically, almost imperceptibly. Its achievement tend to be taken for granted. By contrast, government interventions are nearly always thunderous, even and especially, if they turn out to be completely ineffective.
Below is a micro-essay question that illustrates this phenomenon. (No grade and no reward except the pleasure of discovery.)
Thirty years ago, in America, coffee in public places came in two varieties, fresh and burnt. Today, there are dozens of kinds of coffee beverage and hundreds of varieties of coffee beans available. Even the coffee at McDonald is good. And it’s about the same price in terms of median wages as the bad, burnt coffee was thirty years ago.
Thirty years ago, two kinds of bread were available in America, soft and white and soft and off-white. Both were packaged and carried no good smell from the factory where they were made. I don’t want to exaggerate: There were at least one hundred bakeries, all on the East Coast and in San Francisco, that offered fresh-baked, reasonably crunchy “specialty” bread.
Today, every supermarket in Bakersfield, and in Kansas City, and in Cleveland offers at least twenty varieties of bread, many baked daily. In yuppie towns such as San Francisco, it’s forty varieties and there are dozens of specialized bakeries.
Name the federal or state government program or programs that account for this considerable improvement in the quality and variety of coffees available to the ordinary American consumer.
Or: same question for bread.
Use only one side of a single page, please.
Send me your answers as “Comments.”
Note: Yes, I am going to address the topic of why immigrants are superior. I am just taking a break. Stay tuned.
Gone to the beach!