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Occupy Cluelessness

Here’s a letter to the Program Director of WTOP Radio:

Dear Sir or Madam:

During your 8pm hour yesterday, an earnest young man identified only as a “spokesman for Occupy Christmas” denounced “capitalism” for luring consumers to “waste money on junk to fill fake needs.”

This complaint is as shopworn as it is snooty.  And being so shopworn, it has been analyzed and addressed – and dismissed – countless times by serious scholars.  Here, for example, is economist Wilfred Beckerman writing in 1974: “even if it were possible to draw a dividing line between artificial and natural needs, what is so moral about natural needs and so immoral, or so undesirable, about artificial needs?  Would some peoples’ artificially induced ‘need’ to listen to music or to acquire knowledge be less desirable a component of welfare than some other peoples’ instinctive, natural and primitive instinct to rape women?”*

One of the great achievements of commercial society is its capacity to channel human effort into the creation and satisfaction of “fake needs” such as those for literature, science, and (yes) fashion, and away from the gratification of many destructive primal urges such as those for bloody revenge, male dominance over women, and the plundering of strangers.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* Wilfred Beckerman, Two Cheers for the Affluent Society (New York: Saint Martin’s Press, 1974), p. 83.