No One Makes You Shop At Wal-Mart
At Brad DeLong’s blog I came across this book by Tom Slee, which is from 2006. The subject is how individual choice – the unquestioned mantra of libertarians and most conservatives – in the aggregate leads to outcomes that are collectively disadvantageous, like the demise of downtowns and their replacement by the Wal-Mart monoculture.
You can read chapter 1 for free here. An excerpt:
What became known as the Chicago School had been busy attacking the then-dominant Keynesian ideas that government spending could be used to carry economies through recessions and even pull them out of depressions … One weapon that the school used was the idea of "rational choice." It took the idea of self-interested exchange–a theory introduced in the 18th century by Scots economist Adam Smith–to, and many would say beyond, its logical extreme. The members of the Chicago school insisted that all decisions, including even non-economic ones, could be understood as the product of self-interested rational individual choices, and they therefore announced that the market was the pathway to prosperity and growth.
During the "Me Decade" of the 1980s these ideas found their way out of academic journals and into the public arena. The centrality of the individual and the rejection of community found its voice in Thatcher’s famous declaration, "There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families."
Hmm. The Iron Lady is still with us, though it seems likely not for much longer; but one has to wonder, if there was no such thing as “society”, what was she Prime Minister of?
Back to the book, I’d like to get the whole thing but it doesn’t seem to be available as an e-book; when next back in the US I’ll have to look for a used copy. Meanwhile Slee’s blog has some interesting stuff, like this post on Peer-to-Peer Hucksterism, where he takes to task services like Uber (the ride-sharing virtual taxi app) and AirBnB (the service that let’s people rent rooms out of their homes). Slee’s contention, which I agree with, is that far from liberating resources and choice for the benefit of consumers, these services extract large fees but take no responsibility for the services being negotiated. There are reasons we have regulations on taxis and hotels. They are mainly so I as a consumer can engage a car or a room with expectation of a certain quality of service – and, to give me a standard channel for recourse when I don’t receive that level of service.
Anyway, individual choice vs. collective goods. Neat topic. Leaping from economics to literature, I wonder why there aren’t any/many anti-libertarian dystopian novels. there’s plenty of pro-libertarian novels, from 1984 to Atlas Shrugged and even The Hunger Games. Maybe I’ll save this thought for another post.