Freeman

June 1990

Volume 40, 1990

FEATURES

Consumer Sovereignty

JUNE 01, 1990 by BETTINA BIEN GREAVES

From time to time, insightful economists have described the operations of a market economy. Many have noted that no central planner is needed to tell producers what to produce, when to produce, how much to produce, and what quality to produce. Adam Smith, often called the "first economist," pointed out in 1776 that the butcher, the baker, and the brewer are guided as if by "an invisible hand." Frederic Bastiat remarked in 1845 that Parisians need not fear starving the next day, but could sleep peacefully in their beds, confident that the city would be provisioned during the night.

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Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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