Power and Market: What Can a Shopping Cart Tell Us about Political Efficacy?

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Shopping Cart - Power and MarketSometimes I am really baffled by people’s proclivity to have a mistrust of free markets but a faith in government.

Let’s do a thought experiment.

Scenario 1:

You go into a grocery store. You need to stock up so you grab a shopping cart. You have so many choices. If you want apples, there are granny smith, gold delicious, red delicious, fuji, and so on. There are also mangos, papayas, peaches, strawberries, bananas, oranges, tangerines, nectarines, grapefruit, cherries, limes, blueberries, and many more. And this is just the fruit of the produce section!

Like most grocery stores, it also has many other types of food and beverage as well. You can get as little or as much of each, as long as it falls within your budget. You can also come back the next day or in a week or not at all. Your decision to patronize this grocery store is completely optional.

Scenario 2:

The grocery store you use has been decided for you since birth and it’s the only grocery store available in the country. You must use it since there are no other alternatives for food. Not only that, but the selection within the store isn’t very good. Instead of being able to select the contents of your shopping cart, it is decided by the democratic process. Everybody has to have the same items in their shopping cart for four years; after this time, people vote between two choices for a new shopping cart for the next four years.

It’s not as if the items in this shopping cart are very different. Instead of having distinct options, you might be able to change brands or switch to the diet version. Despite the intense battle over certain dessert items, both of these shopping carts are largely the same.

Which scenario would you prefer to live under?

In case it wasn’t obvious enough, Scenario 1 was intended to be an analogy for the amount of choice we have in the market, with the ultimate choice of whether we want to participate in it or not. Scenario 2 is the grocery store equivalent of the electoral process: you get two very similar choices which everyone must live with and no one has the option of opting out.

And yet, for some reason, many people have more trust in the government than they have in the market. Democracy is often held up as the bedrock of a free society. If we had to choose our food in the same way that we “choose” our governments, there would quickly be a revolt. I’ll acknowledge that the analogy presented above isn’t perfect, but I think it’s close enough to lead us to question how great our political system is.

So I leave you with this question: If our ability to choose our food is important enough to us to leave it to the market, why isn’t the legal system?

Power and Market

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