August 08, 2007

My friend Justin Raimondo is the best of the paleolibertarians, but he occasionally suffers from Restless Leg Syndrome.  At least, I assume that’s what’s responsible for the knee-jerk reaction to my previous post.

Justin writes: “Is Senor Richert proposing to nationalize the fast food business, in order to get the government to inject ‘meaning’ into McDonald’s hamburgers?”  Of course, I had already ruled out such an absurd idea: “I can hear the cries now: ‘What do you want—government to intervene?’ Of course not.”

Since Justin apparently didn’t get that far, let me repeat the very next lines:

“But such studies should serve to remind us that we shouldn”€™t endow the market with magical properties.  It ought to be self-evident to any true conservative that Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, and Microsoft aren”€™t the pinnacles of civilization.  These studies just provide a little more proof that the market is only a mechanism—one which can work to the destruction of civilization just as easily as it can work to its benefit.”

The problem with all too many conservatives—and all libertarians—today is that they endow the market with powers that they don’t even believe that God possesses.  (Oddly, they also apparently believe that the market is so fragile that government can easily destroy those very powers.)  Even though Ludwig von Mises himself rejected the idea of the intrinsic morality of the market, modern-day Misesians (especially Catholic ones) talk about the market in moral terms.  (Some even go so far as to claim that the very success of Wal-Mart, Microsoft, and McDonald’s is proof of both their aesthetic and their moral superiority.)

But Mises was right—the market is just an efficient means through which individual preferences are satisfied.  And he didn’t believe that it was the purview of economics to comment on the morality of such preferences.  But not only can those preferences be immoral, they can also be swayed—as, for instance, is proved by the study that shows that children find a carrot wrapped in a piece of waxed paper with a McDonald’s logo on it more tasty than the same carrot in a plain wrapper.

So, yes—Justin and I are in agreement: Keep government out of the market.  But I’ll go a step further, and I hope that Justin will join me: Inform your conscience properly, and bring it with you into the marketplace.  (In other words, “Don’t patronize them.”  Hmm—where have I heard that before?)  “For what doth it profit a man to gain the whole world, if he lose his immortal soul?”

Or, for those less religiously inclined: What does it profit a man to save a few pennies, if he must wash down his Big Mac with a Sam’s Club soda in front of his Dell computer running Windows?


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