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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 433 of the late Wesleyan University economic historian Stanley Lebergott’s phenomenal 1984 book, The Americans: An Economic Record; this quotation appears in a chapter on the American economy in the 1920s:

First was the coming of the automobile, and its country cousin the truck. These did more than provide a more convenient horse and wagon. Their greater speed and lower cost (per shipment) expanded the area of competition, perhaps as much as the railroad in earlier decades. [Henry] Leland and [Henry] Ford and [Billy] Durant intensified business competition, and thereby productivity, more than all the free-market economists and antitrust legislators in human history.

DBx: This observation about the competitive consequences of the automobile is important, and Lebergott offers it with his usual eloquence and wit. But perhaps he underestimates the role of free-market economists. To the extent that Adam Smith and other liberal scholars helped to create, nurture, and spread ideas that encouraged ordinary people to find dignity in bourgeois pursuits and to accept, or even applaud, entrepreneurial innovation and all of its consequences, liberal scholars did their share to create the space and conditions that enabled entrepreneurs such as Leland, Ford, and Durant – and Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Swift, Sears, Singer, Borden, Disney, Kroc, Walton, Jobs, Bezos, and on and on with a roster of countless other names, some familiar but most obscure – to get rich by making the rest of us rich.

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