I’ve started a discussion with a political science professor at my college, and I thought it might be helpful to get more views. (Now not only is this guy a colleague, but he’s also used Rothbard in one of his classes, so no spitballs please.) Below I’ve excerpted some things from his latest email, and then I give a quick response. This is the type of discussion that will probably be better if it’s short bursts back and forth, rather than long discourses.Nathan said:
I have in mind something like what Ropke fretted about in Chapter II of The Humane Economy, borrowing from Ortega y Gasset. I mean by the term “mass society” simply the social effects of mass production and consumption. The concept is difficult to describe more concisely, as it involves a rather complex chain of related events. Such effects would include the relative homogenization of tastes and attitudes (chain food, clothing, popular entertainment, etc. from cheaper goods and aggressive advertising); the disruption of family bonds as individuals are encouraged by businesses and marketers to pursue at all costs individual satisfaction (and these appeals often include manipulative appeals to lowest denominator tastes, sex and violence) ; the loss of true individuality and individual liberty – and thus responsibility – as individuals interior lives are increasingly shaped by market forces (cell phones, television, video games, advertising, etc.); I could go on…
A few quick points:
(1) The “free market” means nothing else than respect for property rights. It does not mean “unbridled commercialism” or “worship of mammon.” So at a basic level, I don’t see how refraining from violating people’s property rights leads to irresponsibility, breakdown of family, etc.
(2) I think the government plays a huge role in the undeniably obectionable features of modern society. E.g. I can’t think of a better way to foster homogeneity of thought and tastes than the so-called public school system or public ownership of the radio and television waves. And let us not forgot the institution of democracy itself–now there’s something that promotes mass society and undermines individual responsibility.
(3) To the extent that Wal-Mart caters to lower and middle-income people, I think that in a truly free market, Wal-Mart would not be as popular as it is now. In the present environment, Wal-Mart provides a wonderful service (in my opinion) because of its quality/price combination. But if I took home (literally) twice as much income because of the abolition of government “services,” then I probably would go to fancier shops etc. for a lot of my purchases.