… is from page 102 of the late, great Wesleyan University economic historian Stanley Lebergott’s insightful 1975 book, Wealth and Want (footnote deleted):
The widespread U.S. reliance on refrigerators – first iceboxes and then mechanized – may have saved even more work. They dramatically reduce the number of shopping trips that the housewife and/or children had to make each day, for milk, for meat, and for other items that could not keep readily without refrigeration. Work apart, the refrigerator reduced food waste, spoilage, and infection from spoiled food, just as easy-to-use washing machines led to more frequent washing and decreased disease spread by lice and thru dirty clothes.
DBx: It’s the little things – or, more precisely, things that to us fortunate members of modernity seem to be little – that matter most.
Refrigeration reduces the amount of time that must be spent simply to provision ordinary households with food. And by keeping food cleansed of harmful quantities of bacteria, refrigeration can be thought of even as a contribution to public health – as can, of course, other apparently (to us moderns) mundane realities, such as the widespread availability of antihistamines and the equipping of residences and places of business with indoor plumbing.
The time-saving feature of refrigeration and other modern appliances is important to emphasize now that we are witnessing the spread of a lethal virus. This virus is called by various names, including “national conservatism” and “economic nationalism.” Its carriers all share an ignorance of economics (even as many of them know just enough economic jargon to appear to non-economists to be economically literate). But more to the point here, many of these carriers also bemoan one of the most predictable and happy consequences of the time-saving feature of modern appliances – namely, freeing women from household chores and, thus, better enabling women to join men in earning incomes by working outside of their households.
Economic nationalists and national conservatives are, at root, quite like so many other critics of markets: because markets liberate individuals to choose in ways that these conservatives and other critics of markets dislike, they conclude that markets are ‘imperfect’ and that the state must coerce individuals to behave only in ways that meet with the approval of these market critics. These critics of markets – conservative critics no less than “Progressive” ones – are blind to their own arrogance and selfishness. Their arrogance is revealed by their insistence that their preferred economic and social outcomes are superior to the outcomes that emerge spontaneously in markets; their selfishness is revealed by their demands that the state replace – necessarily, note, through viable threats of coercion – market outcomes with the outcomes preferred by these critics.