… is from page 11 of Stanley Lebergott’s brilliant – and oh-so-much-fun-to-read – 1993 volume, Pursuing Happiness: American Consumers in the Twentieth Century; note that when Lebergott here writes “consumer spending” he is not referring to any macroeconomic notion; instead, he means what is often called “consumer sovereignty” – the right of each consumer to spend his or her money as he or she sees fit and without such spending being superintended or otherwise second-guessed by elites; (footnote excluded; ellipses and bracketed remark original to Lebergott) :
Consumer spending may serve Humanity no more frequently than most other human activities. But how forbidding society would be if one man’s aesthetic/moral preferences decided what goods his fellow consumers select. In open societies, human consumption choices share only one characteristic – they are made in pursuit of happiness. The importance and finality of consumers’ freedom was italicized by William Penn. For he used it as a precedent to warrant equal freedom in religion: “Men have their liberty and choice in external matters; they are not compelled to … buy here and eat there, nor to sleep yonder…. That this liberty should be unquestioned, and that of the Mind destroyed [is, he said] the issue here.”
(The Penn reference is to Penn’s “The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience.”)
George Akerlof and Robert Shiller (among others) should read, and consider carefully the wisdom in, Lebergott’s Pursuing Happiness. And everyone should be aware that if the state assumes the authority to second-guess people’s consumption choices, it is a short step to the state assuming the same authority over people’s political and religious choices. If you think me to be exaggerating, consider that Akerlof and Shiller already display a frightening desire to restrict freedom of speech.