… is from pages 564-565 of the final volume – Bourgeois Equality – of Deirdre McCloskey’s trilogy on the essence of bourgeois values and their role in modern life:
But if a profit occurs – at any rate, if the profit does not come from political favors, as it does to the sugar industry or the wind-farm industry – the economy is articulating something worth attending to. It is saying, “Do more of this. People want it strongly enough to pay for it.” If a loss occurs it is saying, “Don’t do that. People won’t pay for it.” The articulation comes from the dollar votes of ordinary people, a democracy of what people in the aggregate are willing to pay. It’s not one person, one vote, and the rich do get more votes. And so for some purposes – voting for representatives especially – dollar voting would be objectionable, though in cynical truth it happens. But in markets under dollar voting, at least the rich do not get to tell the poor what to buy; whereas under personhood suffrage the tyranny of the majority, sometimes purchased by the rich, can indeed force to poor to buy a war, say, or a subsidy to the rich. Dollar votes are in any case better than the will of the raj or even most plans of the bureaucrat.
As Thomas Leonard documents in Illiberal Reformers (which Deirdre reviews here), American “Progressives” a century ago explicitly rejected the idea that an ordinary person spending his or her own money does so in ways that promote that ordinary-person’s best interest. “Progressives” believed that knowledge of that ordinary-person’s best interest, and the fortitude to pursue it, was possessed reliably only by “experts” (that is, “Progressive” professors, pundits, politicians, preachers, and mandarins). Today’s “Progressives” differ only in being more crafty than their predecessors of a century ago when making the case for the state to superintended the lives of ordinary people. While today’s “Progressives” speak of “nudging” by the state and of government efforts to reduce “phishing for phools,” the contempt that today’s “Progressives” have for the choices and abilities of ordinary people is no less searing than was the contempt felt by “Progressives” of the past.
Note also that, while it’s true that the rich today have more dollar votes than do the poor today, the rich – or, those many rich people whose riches are the result of market exchanges – have more dollar votes today than do the poor only because the rich increased the number and value of the poor’s dollar votes. However many more dollar votes some rich market entrepreneur or market investor or market CEO has today than I have, the number of my dollar votes, and the range of ways that I have available to express those votes, is larger than it would be had that rich entrepreneur or investor or CEO not done whatever it was that he or she did to earn the large number of dollar votes that he or she enjoys today.