From Kevin Williamson at The Dispatch, ‘Dispossessed of Their Pathetic Livelihoods’: (firewalled, I highly recommend a subscription)
The more enlightened view understands that human beings are not liabilities but assets. Human effort is inherently valuable. And that doesn’t just mean the effort of geniuses and very clever people and people in high-status occupations—or people in paid formal work, for that matter. There’s a reason we don’t grow our own food. My time is valuable, and so I try to apply my working hours to the thing I do best. (Economics for English Majors: This is “comparative advantage.”) The people who grow my food, deliver my packages, refine my diesel, sew my boots, and put together the computer on which I am typing this all perform the very valuable service of doing things I am not good at—or doing things I might be pretty good at if I did them all day but am not as good at doing as doing what I do for a living—so that I can concentrate all my effort on doing what I do best. We free-market types like to talk about competition—and competition is important—but capitalism is profoundly cooperative: This marvelously productive worldwide economy is something we all do together. The value created by the guy picking avocados isn’t just in avocado production—it’s in the work of everybody else in the world who gets to do something else because Avocado Guy, and millions of others like him, have liberated the rest of us from the need to produce our own food, mill our own flours, manufacture our own tires, etc.
As F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises (among others) pointed out, you can’t plan that. The relevant information is distributed throughout society, every data point is contingent on potentially millions of other factors, and the lifespan of a relevant data point may only be seconds. I don’t know how many avocados I’m going to want to buy the next time I go to the grocery store—and Hawley and other would-be central planners sure as hell don’t know, either. We let markets—including the labor market—work because the actors in the marketplace collectively are in possession of the relevant knowledge that central planners cannot get their hands on. It is not that the free market is unplanned—it is exquisitely, complexly planned by billions of people, each acting on the problems closest to him, about which he knows the most and is best positioned to act. You cannot impose a rational plan on that–you can only impose rigidity and ignorance on it, pretending that that is a plan.
Some people will try to tell you that the middle classes have not seen any real economic progress since the 1970s or 1980s. This is pure baloney. (Unless you are getting it from the New York Times, in which case, it is mortadella.) The best economic data we have do not support that conclusion, but, if you don’t want to dig into the economics, then go to a library. Read a book written in the 1970s or the 1980s. Read a magazine. Look at pictures, look at the advertisements—trust the evidence of your own eyes. Some of you are old enough to remember what a typical house was like in 1975, what a grocery store was like in 1981, how life was actually lived. The Brady Bunch was not a documentary, but there is a reason people laughed at the show’s jokes about the high price of meat—a complaint coming from the family of a prosperous architect who lived in a large modern house with six children, a stay-at-home wife, and a live-in servant. There’s a reason people reading The Stand in 1978 nodded along with Stephen King’s observations about the price of butter. In 1950, groceries (“food at home,” in economists’ parlance) accounted for more than 16 percent of household spending; today, that figure is less than 5 percent. And before you say it, no, that hasn’t been more than offset by eating out: Food “away from home” went from 3.8 percent of household spending in 1950 to 4.7 in 2019, a modest increase, which is part of why overall food spending declined from 20 percent of household spending in 1950 to less than 10 percent today.