Over at Cafe Hayek, Don Boudreaux writes about an interesting double-standard, namely that in politics, making one as appealing to many people as possible is a virtue, but in markets, it is decried as “crass.” I urge you to go over and read Don’s whole piece, as there’s a lot of good stuff in there. However, I don’t want to focus on that aspect of the post. Rather, I want to discuss this part:
Those activities that regularly get labeled as “crass” are those that appeal to the masses. Hollywood blockbusters are “crass”; indie movies are cool. Pop music is “crass”; John Cage’s music is cool. McDonald’s is “crass”; artisan cheesemakers are cool. Wal-Mart is “crass”; a boutique merchant selling hand-knitted sweaters is cool. Supermarkets are “crass”; farmers’ markets are cool. Shopping malls are “crass”; small stores tucked into basements along Bleecker Street are cool. Barnes & Noble and Amazon are “crass”; independent bookstores each specializing in only one genre of literature are cool. Home Depot is “crass”; a mom’n’pop hardware store is cool. DisneyWorld is “crass”; Iceland’s fjords are cool. American football is “crass”; soccer (in America) is cool. The suburbs are “crass”; Georgetown is cool. Budweiser is “crass”; Sierra Nevada brews are cool. White zinfandel from California is “crass”; rosés from Bandol are cool.
Don highlights (albeit incidentally) one of the great things about the market process: it’s not winner take all. There is something for everyone, including the niche interests. Budweiser makes a beer that’s designed to appeal to a large group, and as such they capture a large number of customers. But what of those who don’t like Bud? Or who want something different than flavored water? For people like me, there are microbrews like Tuckerman or 603. These guys likely won’t ever approach the numbers of Bud, but they make a living catering to those not served by Bud. In markets, there is room for choice. In markets, there is room for both artisan cheesemakers and Kraft, or white zin and rosé.
Unfortunately, this freedom of choice is not applicable to politics. Politics is a winner-take-all system. For example, if a politician gains a majority, it doesn’t matter if he won by 1 vote or 100 million; he still wins. When government issues diktats regarding this or that, they must be obeyed under threat of force. If government decides a good/service is necessary and mandates it (say, education or health insurance), those who may wish to consume less than the government diktat now no longer have that choice. That is why I oppose the politicization of commerce (by that I mean government attempting to influence a market). Despite how it’s sold, politicization of commerce is reduction of choice, not increase.