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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 111 of the Daniel Boorstin’s great 1973 volume, The Americans: The Democratic Experience (original emphasis):

The builders [such as Gustavus Swift, the innovative slaughterhouse entrepreneur and John Hartford of the A&P supermarket chain] of the new nationwide consumption communities met bitter opposition from local merchants, hometown boosters, and champions of neighborhoods who stood for the local community.  The keepers of the old general stores had fought the big-city department stores; they would also fight RFD [rural free delivery], they opposed parcel post, and they attacked mail-order “monopolies.”  The menace of “chain stores,” they said, was a threat to the whole American way of life.

Boorstin goes on to quote a jeremiad by U.S. Senator Hugo Black (D-AL) against chain stores.  (This is the same Hugo Black who, as a senator, famously filibustered a bill to prevent lynching – not surprising given his membership in the Ku Klux Klan – and who was successfully appointed in 1937 to the U.S. Supreme Court by Franklin Roosevelt.)

As Thomas Sowell points out (I believe in Intellectuals and Society, where he notes that the 1920s was one of the most economically progressive decades in American history), “Progressives” often oppose genuine progress – such as the lower distribution costs, lower product prices, higher product quality, greater product selection, and better employment opportunities opened up by innovations in retailing.  The only sort of change that “Progressives” consistently celebrate as “progress” is a progressive increase in the role of government – specifically, an increase in the scope and depth of government’s intervention into the economic affairs of ordinary people.  Such an increase in government power is considered by “Progressives” to be “progressive” even if (as is often the case) the goals and the effects of the use of such government power are to resist the forces of creative destruction or to otherwise stymie economic progress that is not directed or controlled by the state.

Note another feature of “Progressives'” frequent opposition to innovations in retailing: it is opposition to what in accuracy should be called “shared prosperity.”  When the likes of Wal-Mart devises innovative means of creating and taking advantage of economies of scale in distribution, or Home Depot imports for resale in the U.S. more lower-cost goods assembled abroad, the benefits of these lower costs (and, also typically, of higher qualities) are shared with millions of consumers throughout America (and wherever else these firms have stores) in the form of lower prices and wider product selection.  Such a widespread sharing of prosperity was certainly a consequence of the spread of mail-order innovators, such as Sears, in the late nineteenth century and of supermarkets, such as A&P, in the twentieth century – all despite the hysteria at those times over the demise of local merchants and over the alleged permanent loss of jobs that such retailing innovations were said to cause.

These retailing innovations were, of course, market-driven technological advances that expanded consumer choice.  And so to endorse government actions to suppress the consequences of market-driven technological innovation is, at bottom, to endorse government actions to suppress consumer choice.  There is absolutely nothing genuinely progressive about such arrogance wrapped in economic ignorance and spiced with cronyism.