08 October, 2005

Progress, populism, and the people

Recently, the author of Verbum Ipsum posted an interesting essay on Progress, populism, and the state. You should go read it. I submitted the following comment, beginning with a quote from his posting:

Is it, as some have suggested, that it's the state that makes the concentration of wealth possible through the various subsidies and supports it provides to big business?

Today I accompanied my family while shopping for food, first to Save-A-Lot, then to Wal-Mart, finally to Food Lion. We have no financial need for Save-A-Lot, nor Wal-Mart, and I dislike them. I stand in Wal-Mart, look up at the ceiling, and my heart sinks. I like Food Lion okay, if only because the cashier actually remembers us and talks to us.

Haven't bought much from Harris Teeter. It looks nice, but aside from the distance, it costs quite a bit more. That doesn't bother me at all; on my salary, I can afford it, but my wife, like her friends, is possessed with the idea of saving money at every opportunity. In fact, she heard about Save-A-Lot from a friend of hers whose husband makes at least twice my salary.

There's something in our cultural mentality that prizes low cost above all else. I used to like shopping at Wal-Mart, back when they boasted of buying "American so you can, too!" I remember paying twice as much for American-made bedsheets at Wal-Mart than for the Chinese-made ones sitting right next to them. I chose that, and I slept in those bedsheets last night.

These days, though, I can't find American-made bedsheets at Wal-Mart, or anywhere else, for that matter. I find it hard to believe that this situation is the result of state subsidies of big business, unless you want to talk about the Chinese state.

I've observed the same thing in European countries; half the so-called "Gucci" handbags hanging from their arms are Chinese knockoffs sold on streetcorners by low-wage Arab or African immigrants. Ordinary Europeans know this, and buy them anyway.

I think Jeffersonian agrariansim is possible in the 21st century; the Amish seem to be doing quite well at it. People don't seem to want it, though; most of us prefer our wide-screen TVs, surround-sound stereos, and cable (or satellite) to spending a few hours a day in a garden, and most would rather complain about gasoline at $3/gallon than break out the bike and ride to work on a sunny day, or buy a bus pass.

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