Do Free People Need to Be Forced to Buy Good Products?

Have any of you noticed that the government is always ordering you to buy things?  For example – if you want to buy a car, the bureaucrats have created so many regulations regarding that automobile, that you have to get certain safety features and you have to get a certain amount of fuel efficiency.  Do you need a light bulb?  Guess what, soon government will order you to buy (very expensive) fluorescent light bulbs, because they are in essence outlawing the incandescent light bulb from the market place.  Likewise, the government is forcing people to buy toilets that use less water and a standard flush toilet with some serious water pressure will soon be a thing of the past.

Of course, when the government orders free citizens to buy certain products the bureaucrats and politicians tell us “the new product is better, that is why people must buy it!”  Likewise, when your government bans the sale of a product, they do so because (they claim) that product is inferior, dangerous, wasteful, and expensive.  The product is so bad; we won’t allow consumers to buy it.

So, maybe we should ask ourselves.  Do we really need to be ordered to buy good products?  Do we really need to be prohibited from buying inferior products?  The answer is a resounding, no.

I was listening to music quite a bit this weekend.   I simply hit shuffle on my IPod and it played all weekend without repeating a song.  It’s an incredibly convenient device.  The digital music revolution has truly improved the lot of music fans.  I couldn’t help but remember a key point – no one in the government ordered me to buy an iPod for “my own good.” 

In fact, my decision to go digital was a completely free choice.  I still own hundreds of Compact Discs, but I long ago copied that music to my iPod as well.  It is a better way to deliver music to consumers.  Sure, there will always be the fans of vinyl albums and compact discs, both of which offer tactile joys.  However, the music industry is dominated by downloaded music these days.

It got me to thinking about my music experience over my lifetime.  I can remember in the early 1970s, my mother would be listening to Frank Sinatra on a 33 RPM long playing vinyl album.  At the same time, my sister was listening to the Monkees on a 45 RPM vinyl single.  My brothers and I were fooling around with a reel to reel tape player listening to the Beatles.

Later, in the 70s my oldest brother had an 8-Track player in his car.  Pretty sweet that 8-track player, except for the fact that the best song on the album almost always seemed to be the song that would fade out as the player switched from track one to track two, thereby ruining the song.  This didn’t stop the 8-Track from gobbling up a significant portion of record sales.

By the time I reached high school in the 1980’s I scoffed the 8-track as a relic.  The 45 RPM singles were long gone.  No, we had reached music nirvana with the advent of the stereo cassette.  It was portable, could be slapped in a car stereo or in a portable boom box.  We never had it so good.  Not only was this the apex of music products, but we could now make “mix tapes” – perfect for parties.  I remember wondering why people were still buying vinyl when it was so obvious that the cassette was the better product.

By the end of the 1980s, I was finding it harder and harder to purchase cassette tapes at a record store.  Someone had gone and introduced Compact Discs.  Ask someone under the age 30 if they even know what a cassette tape is and you will probably get a blank stare.  When I would go into record stores in the 1980’s, entire walls were covered with cassettes.  By 1990, the cassette was dead and I was transitioning to the CD.

The quality of the CD, a digital recording, well it was so much better that no one wanted cassettes anymore.  Vinyl albums limped along but the market for vinyl was just about destroyed.  The LP was now a nostalgia piece or worse a novelty item.  CDs ruled the day, and let’s face it; we all thought they would rule forever.  That is until along came digital music, MP3s, and iTunes.  I’d tell you to go to a record store and look for a CD but digital music destroyed music stores along with the CD.

I’ll bet most of you had a similar experience with different forms of music over your lifetimes.  In fact, I’d wager that today most of you have some kind of portable digital music player, or music files on your computer right now – and that you have more music digitally than you do physically in the form of albums, CDs, or heaven forbid cassette tapes.

Now ask yourself something.  At any time in your life did government force you to buy a music product?  For example did bureaucrats announce that they were outlawing the reel to reel tape in favor of the 8-Track?  Do you remember the President or any of his cabinet officials ever getting on television with a somber announcement that the cassette tape was now the only legal music product in America and that it would no longer be lawful to sell 8-tracks?  Was there a ban on CDs announced forcing the advent of iTunes?

Do you remember any of that?  Of course not.

Here’s what really happened.  People like music a lot and they are always seeking the best way to own it and listen to it.  The music industry likes selling music a lot and in order to make money they want to give people what they want.  In other words, the advances in music happened naturally, driven by consumer demand and producer innovation.  That relationship between consumer and producer is free of coercion.

Need another example?  Ask yourself – how did the free world transition from burning wood, to burning coal, to burning oil and gas?  None of that was ordered and that is why it worked so well.  Only when the bureaucrats in government got involved in massively regulating energy did we suddenly stop progressing.  Strange, isn’t it?

This brings me back to the original question.  Do free people have to be forced to buy a good product?  Let’s take a look at that fluorescent light bulb.  If it is a better product, why would any government have to force people to buy it?  Why would government have to outlaw the incandescent bulbs?  Is that what happened with the 8-track tape?

People who are free are also rational actors.  When we spend our money we want good products that offer value and quality.  Free people can figure that out without help.  They do not need to be ordered, threatened, cajoled, begged, or forced to behave rationally.  Our own experience with music proves that.  If consumers are willing to seek the very best products on music, they can handle light bulbs too. Free people can also decide how many MPGs they want their car to get.  People can decide how much flushing power their toilets need.  I could literally list products for days that we do not need to be told how to buy.

Yet, your government and the bureaucrats within that government disagree.  They want to force you to buy the products that they want you to buy.  Of course, they will wrap this brute force up in nice speeches about the efficiency of the new light bulb.  How it will save money in the “long run” and how it is simply a better product.  But we know from our own experience, when something is better, we don’t need to be told to buy it.  We simply buy the CD and forget all about the cassette tape.

So why does government need to use force and law to make you buy a light bulb, or a toilet with no water, or a tiny tin-can of a car? 

Here’s the dirty little secret.  The government is forcing you to buy these products because government knows you won’t naturally, freely buy the products the government wants you to buy.  In other words, the government is actually forcing you to stop buying what you want, to buy what you don’t want.  The government knows that the products they are forcing you to buy are in fact, not better.  It’s as if the government was forcing you to buy 8-track tapes and outlawing iTunes.

Does that make a bit of sense?  No.  Is it how free people should be treated by their government?  No.

Remember that the next time the government announces how they are going to force you to buy a better product.  Remember, if a politician is forcing you to buy something, it is more than likely an 8-track tape he is pushing.  

Enough with the heavy-handed government; we, the people, can figure this stuff out on our own. 

-cj cheetham

Check out the vintage 8-Track Player Commercial:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s