Friday, August 9, 2013

Reason #300: The Free Market

I believe that in any group of human beings over a certain size, there exists a certain amount of goodwill and a certain amount of bad will, and that these levels don't really change. The role of governmental institutions, then, is to maximize the utility of the good while minimizing that of the bad.

That said, when the mechanisms of one part of government cease to function--as we can all agree is currently the case in Congress--that goodwill will eventually find other ways to express itself. At least, in a sufficiently free society it will.

Which is where capitalism comes in. While capitalism has developed some issues as an economic model, I think the beautiful thing about America is that our government is structured to follow many of the same rules that govern the free market, including supply and demand. So when progress is impossible at the federal, or at least congressional, level, the demand for it is met in other areas, and the federal government is content to allow that to happen--or even adopt someone else's ideas, if they seem good enough. Right now, this is happening most notably at the local level.

Thomas Friedman, famous for his book The World is Flat (and its attendant hypothesis) recently made the case that cities have become "the great laboratories and engines" of America--in order to compete in a flat world where a job that needs to be done can be done just as easily in Mumbai as in, say, Chicago, Chicago must then develop a "world-class" industry to offer people in order to remain relevant and productive in a global society.  And if it can't rely on the federal government to get it there, the tools are present for it to get there on its own--which is indeed what's happening right now in cities across the country.

I wrote recently about Pittsburgh's new mayor-presumptive Bill Peduto, who already has a decade-spanning track record as a progressive thinker who isn't afraid to try new things and ruffle feathers; in an ideal scenario, Peduto will follow in the footsteps of mayors like Rahm Emmanuel (who famously left a job in the White House to run Chicago instead) in redesigning his city from the ground up--and not being afraid to unmoor from federal funding, and its underlying setbacks and limitations, in the process.

Another narrative everyone likes to agree on is that America is the Roman Empire of the modern era, and like Rome, it is currently in the midst of an inevitable decline. That's true enough, but I think it's less a harbinger of someone else's rise--even China's--than of that new flat world Friedman was talking about. If there is to be a new empire in the world, for better or worse, it will be a capitalistic one--a new supranational paradigm wherein the best idea wins, no matter where it comes from.

Further Reading

I Want to Be a Mayor

The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy

Reason #293: Participation

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