The Music of the Market

by Don Boudreaux on August 22, 2008

in Complexity & Emergence, Myths and Fallacies, Seen and Unseen, The Economy

I shamelessly free-ride, in this letter to the New York Times, on an insight about jazz that I learned from Russ:

Jeffrey Lewis nicely
recounts the experiment of a band using extreme improvisational methods
to write music – no one or two identifiable composers, but
participation by all band members ("Communist Songwriting (Sort Of),"
August 19).  Mr. Lewis describes the goal: "The songs should never be
the recognizable product of one or two minds, but an ineffable,
dreamlike synthesis of three or more participants in which the final
result was sometimes quite mind-boggling."

Contrary to Mr.
Lewis’s claim, though, this method of composition has far more in
common with the free market than it does with communism.  Communism
turned each individual into, at best, a robot with a tightly scripted
role in a gigantic central plan.  The communist ideal was planned
‘progress'; nothing was to be left to unreliable individual
initiative.  Everything was directed, in mind- and soul-numbing detail,
from the top.

But in free markets – there the results are truly
and marvelously mind-boggling.  Consider the mundane pencil and ask:
whose idea was it?  Who planned its production from the raw-material
stages (felling trees for the wood, drilling oil for the paint, mining
bauxite for the ferrule and graphite for the ‘lead’) through to
pencils’ delivery to hundreds of thousands of retailers?  The answer is
no one.  Pencils – and cars and MP3 players and aspirin and romantic
B&Bs and you name it – are each the creative, mind-boggling result,
not of any one or two ‘composers,’ but of the efforts of millions of
individuals each doing his or her thing in the feedback-rich
environment of markets.

Play on!

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

My colleague Tom Hazlett, after reading my letter, e-mailed this nice observation to me:

"… or have folks missed
that the corporation provides its ‘music’ through cooperation in a
shared ownership ‘commons,’ often blasted by critics of capitalism as
so smoothly blended to be anti-individualistic? "

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