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That Which Is Within and That Which Is Beyond Our Imagination

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Californian Charley Hooper, after reading this letter [2], sent the following splendid observation to me by e-mail:

California has 3,754 wineries and they provide good wines for customers, jobs for employees, profits for owners, and fun places to visit. Imagine if Prohibition had never ended or if regulations were such that a mere five wineries produced all the wine for the entire country. Who would have known what we would have been missing?

Who would have know that there would have been a winery, Solune, that I could walk to from my house, talk directly to the interesting wine maker, taste his delicious and varied wines, and purchase a few bottles for a reasonable price? Few people have such an imagination of what could be and those who do are often discounted by others.

I think this is further evidence of the awesomeness of the free market. When it is hindered, we don’t know what we’re missing. When it’s present, we get to use amazing things we never dreamed of.

Indeed so.  The invisible – what Bastiat called “the unseen” [3] – includes more than the outputs forgone by using resources in some ways (say, to repair broken windows) rather than in other ways.  The unseen includes also, and more importantly, the greater and better and completely different goods and services, the newer and safer and less-resource-intensive ways of production, and the more full prospects for human flourishing and the heightened hopes and the improved and expanded life-style options that human creativity – unleashed by free markets and governed by open competition and private property rights – makes possible.

Each of us can imagine marginal economic improvements given our knowledge of the existing economy – improvements imaginable today such as faster Internet speed, more options for pizza toppings, continued falling prices for clothing, homes with ceilings more vaulted and dishwashers more quiet, and even driverless cars and pills that cure cancer.  Yet none of us, not even the most wise and visionary entrepreneurs, can imagine the full panoply of goods and services and life’s options that will be created through the different ideas of countless entrepreneurs competing in free markets, with each consumer having the right to choose how to spend his or her money.  The world of 2014 was totally unimaginable to the likes of Josiah Wedgwood, J.D. Rockefeller, Alfred Sloan, and David Sarnoff.  If markets remain reasonably free, the world of 2114 – even of 2034 – is totally unimaginable to anyone of us today.  And whatever is not created because of government interventions is and will forever be unknown and unquantifiable in any detail.  But regardless of what those things are, they will nevertheless be losses for humanity.

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