Consumers and Voters: Inconsistency

It is the end result of all market activity to provide for consumption, it is also, many believe, the role of the state to serve the “people”. So we have two different social structures that generally aim towards the same goal: The satisfaction of desires. However, I often find that people, all of whom are consumers and many are voters, treat these two social structures very differently. An individual I work with made me sudden realize this during an angry tirade.  This person was very dissatisfied with a certain company after they had failed to meet this person’s expectations, and went about to make it known to the rest of us. I have known this person for some years and to a degree knew this person’s political beliefs. Like many, this person was one who would continue to vote for either the same party or person simply because he/she was probably raised that way. Let’s be honest here, politicians promise a lot and rarely deliver. That is just how it is. Of course I lay the blame on the people out there who continue to give their votes to people who do little to nothing, but this is what we have. So, why is it that people hold companies and politicians to two completely different standards?

The Market

The “Market” is not some easily definable institution like the state is. By market I am referring to the entire collective voluntary exchanges that people engage in. Everyone who buys or sells something is doing so in the “marketplace”. Catallactics is a branch of Praxeology, the study of human action, which I hope to get into more in a future article, but deals specifically with interpersonal exchanges, such as a trade between Jack and Jill or a purchase from Steve Jobs’ company of an iphone. This is different than say, Robinson Crusoe or other one man economies where all “exchanges” are between the human actor and nature.

Now that we have established what I mean by the market, we can look at what the market does. All people buy things (or wish to buy things) to fulfill some desire, it could be hunger, boredom, excitement, or anything, if the technology exist for it, and there is sufficient demand for it, you can be sure someone is willing to supply it. The hoagie you buy at the deli required far more production than you may initially think. It requires pigs to butcher, cows to milk, steel to cut the meat, machines to make the cutter, trucks to deliver, refrigerator companies to refrigerate the trucks the food is delivered in, steel needed to make the machines that make the cutters, miners to mine the steel, so on and so forth.

So entrepreneurs are tasked to try to expect what future demand is and provide for it. The successful entrepreneurs will put the unsuccessful entrepreneurs out of business. As long as the more successful one can provide a better, cheaper, or more efficient product they will  earn profit and you will be able to buy better stuff.

The State

The state, government, the law, etc. It goes by many names and I know I do not have to go into detail to define it. There have been many types throughout history, but the kind that we, as in Americans, have here is a Constitutional Federal Republic. Now as I’m sure most of the readers of this site know, we have strayed far and hard from what was envisioned. The one thing that any government must do is make sure that it appears useful. Even authoritarian dictators must, to some degree, be wanted by enough people to justify its existence. When they cannot maintain this, you have political upheaval, revolutions, or civil wars.

So a (perceived) benefit of countries that allow voting is that those who do not appear to do any good are often voted out of office. (I’m simplifying here, we all know this is not always the case.) However, very often people acknowledge that those they have voted for do not do much good, yet will defend and even give more votes to them. I believe this has a lot to do with what you were raised to believe and party loyalty. Just like sports teams, people can stick with a politician or party for decades and still wear the party logo on their chest and brag about it at bars.

The Inconsistency

Now that we have covered all that jazz, let’s get to my initial topic. Why do people hold these two to totally different standards. If you drive a Ford (Sorry Ford, but your name is easiest to type) and it is a piece of garbage, you will be kind of upset, yet, you give Ford another try, and then another. After three cars from Ford that were garbage you would probably give up on the company and tell others how they just couldn’t make a car if their life depended on it. We hear this a lot, such as how American cars are crappy or Chinese imports are worthless, or Hi-Point makes crud guns.

None of us really bats an eye to it, we do it ourselves. We mentally take note of the goods and services that we thought provided better for us, and avoid the ones that didn’t. There is nothing wrong with this. We want the best for what we can buy.

Let us say that after election season is over and a particular candidate has won, his many promises go unfulfilled. You decide to bring it up to one of his supporters and you get the very typical, “Give him time to do it. He has only been in office for a year,” or “He is just trying to fix the last guy’s problems.” Blame is shooed away. Now, they could very well be right, they just normally aren’t. When Obama got into office he went about doing the same things as Bush did. More bailouts, more wars, and more assaults on Liberty. Many people who voted for him noticed this and got irate, good for them, but many still defend him. I heard a girl say the other day say that all presidents should be given eight year terms so they have time to fix things! Huh?

Imaging for one second if it took Ford 8 years to fix a problem with a model of their truck. We would all drop Ford like a rock. They would lose a tremendous amount of market share, especially if it was their F-series truck. But we are stuck with the same politicians for a while, and even their supporters won’t acknowledge that they don’t deliver, and they were the ones all the promises were made for!

Thinking about his I think I believe I formulated a partial explanation.

People get mad when their lives they so love are interfered with. Some people won’t get political until politics comes poking at their hot button, be it guns, weed, gays, healthcare, etc. For the most part, we are not directly or immediately affected by many political actions. We are far removed from the changes. In the marketplace we are not, when the new ipad2 comes out people go nuts. When their fancy new car has a defect they go nuts. When Gears of War 3 comes out people go nuts, when changes happen in the marketplace we immediately and strongly feel the repercussions, because we are the repercussions. The shift of prices, good, and services is directly controlled by us, through our purchases. The signing of laws, regulations, and statutes are in fancy old rooms that we rarely see.

This is not to say that the latter has no effect on us. It sure as hell does. It just means that we focus more fiercely on what we can grab with our hands and understand without too much thought. This is also the reason why the marketplace is so much more efficient at satisfying consumer demands. If it doesn’t, then all the money, labor, land, time, and capital was wasted. The entrepreneur will go bankrupt and fail. The politician will risks being un-elected in 3 years, and get a nice pension.

There is not a large incentive to work when employed in the government, they suffer not from monetary loss. They can tax that away. They suffer from inefficiency both in time and in resources. But damn do they look good while doing it! It would be like the Titanic’s Captain waving to all the drowning folks with a big smile on his face going, “Hey, at least this isn’t the Lusitania. They don’t have good hors d’oeuvres!”

By extension, businesses that are subsidized by government or supported by government in some fashion do not need to strive for efficiency. If Jack and Jill both own candy stores and Jack gets a subsidy, he can charge less than Jill, provide a worse product, and still make more money. Then the public will look at chocolate makers with disdain and scorn, not unlike the so called “Robber Barons” of the late 19th century. Men who used government privilege to gain an upper hand on their competitors and abuse the market share they “gained.” (Of course, there are those such as Cornelius Vanderbilt who out performed the government backed companies without any subsidies or help, yet were still lambasted as greedy, evil capitalists.)

The government, by its nature of being farther removed from everyday activities, and by using business as a shield in some cases, tends to avoid the scrutiny that we impose on the many businesses out there. I would urge those out there to look beyond what you just see in front of your face or what you can hold in your hands. Much like the lengthy production processes needed for you to eat a ham sandwich, the government also has multiple layers of complicated structuring that is hard to initially see. I say we should be more critical of the state then of CiCi’s pizza or PlayitAgain sports. At least they have to earn your money, the state just goes and takes it…


About Shawn Kelly

Shawn is a student and father who first took to the ideas of liberty during Ron Paul's first presidential campaign. He now is pursuing a career in economics, the understanding of which he believes is paramount for those who seek a free society.
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2 Responses to Consumers and Voters: Inconsistency

  1. Andrew Shemo says:

    good article, Shawn.

    you forgot to mention Lynsander Spooner and his mail operation directly competing against the government without receiving any subsidies!

  2. Shawn Kelly says:

    Another one of many good examples of how the Market can outperform the government (or gov backed companies). ;-)

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