August 07, 2007

Left undistorted by government, our libertarian friends tell us, the market will always work out to the advantage of all.  Those of us who express doubts are routinely derided as “statists” or “protectionists” or “authoritarians.” And we may even be called something worse if we dare to proclaim, with the social teaching of the Church, that the market is made for man, not man for the market—and, hence, accept the proposition that moral considerations are more important than the workings of the invisible hand.

Even the most die-hard defender of unfettered economic liberty, however, might pause for a moment after reading two recent news stories.  The first, “Study: Food in McDonald’s wrapper tastes better to kids,” comes from and confirms what any parent knows: Advertising dollars distort the market just as surely as government does.  Preschoolers declared that “Even carrots, milk and apple juice tasted better . . . when they were wrapped in the familiar packaging of the Golden Arches.”  The very taste of the children, the chief author of the study declared, was “physically altered by the branding.”

The study targeted children ages 3 to 5—a little bit older than the age group targeted by another great success story of the free market, the “Baby Einstein” series of videos and DVDs.  (President Bush even singled out the founder of Baby Einstein for recognition at his most recent State of the Union Address.)  But now comes a study out of the University of Washington that finds that, “with every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words than babies who never watched the videos.”  It gets better: “These products had the strongest detrimental effect on babies 8 to 16 months old, the age at which language skills are starting to form.”

I can hear the cries now: “What do you want—government to intervene?”  Of course not.  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.

And, given the fallen nature of man, one which may work to the destruction of civilization more often than to its benefit.


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