Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Free Market Religion. And VCR's. And Phone Calls. And Education.

This is from a Wall Street Journal article about the potential decline of religion in the U.S.


"America has long stood out among developed countries for its religiosity. This has less to do with innate godliness than with the free market created by the First Amendment. Pre-Revolutionary America was not that religious, because the original Puritans were swamped by less wholesome adventurers -- in Salem, Mass., the setting for "The Crucible," 83% of taxpayers by 1683 confessed to no religious identification.
America became religious after the Constitution separated church from state, thus ensuring that religious denominations could only survive if they got souls into pews. While state-sponsored religion withered in Europe, American faith has been a hive of activity: from the Methodists, who converted close to an eighth of the country in the half century after the Revolution, to the modern megachurches."

The statement that religion has prospered in the U.S. because of the absence of a state religion is almost a cliche. I mean, who the hell is going to voluntarily give 10% of their income to the C of E when it is presided over by Prince Charles?

Let's see how many other examples we can shovel into Mr. Micklethwait and Mr. Woolridge's beautifully phrased paragraphs:

America has long stood out among all countries for having VCR's. This has less to do with an innate desire to watch movies than with our ability to trade somewhat freely with Taiwan. Pre-1970's America did not have that many VCR's, because the original models cost too much. In fact, one of the earliest models cost $30,000.00 and was one of the featured "ridiculously expensive" items in the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog. Fortunately, even the poorest Americans have a VCR now that you can get them for $5.00 at pawn shops.
America acquired VCRs because they were developed primarily overseas. Our government was not bribed into protecting a local monopoly, thus insuring that entrepreneurs, engineers, and logistics experts all over the world were motivated to develop less and less expensive models as demand grew. (The direct descendent of the VCR, the DVD player, is now available for $35.00 at Wal-Mart. But not in Cuba, North Korea, or Amish households.)

Ok, let's try another example ! ! !

America now leads most of the world with its low rates for phone calls. This has less to do with a government plan than with the breakup of Ma Bell in 1982. Pre-monopoly breakup America considered long distance calls an expensive novelty, which is why my mother still encourages me to call relatives whenever I pass through Mississippi, even though the rate is the same from Texas.
America benefited from cheap long distance calls only after Judge Harold Greene broke up the AT&T monopoly, thus ensuring that competing phone companies could only survive if they had a reasonably priced product. This action drove AT&T into the business of creating incredibly crappy wireless phones, which I've ranted about here. Now that competition has entered the picture, long distance calls from the U.S. to the rest of the world are practically free.

That one was fun. I could do one about how, until the early 1980's, the only LTL freight carriers permitted to operate in Texas were Central Freight and Tex-Pack. When trucking was somewhat deregulated, freight costs fell from 15% of GDP to 10%. I now have freight companies falling over each other wanting to provide me what I need. For a tiny little sliver of profit.
But let's save that for another day.

Let's do a fantasy one....

America has long stood out among developed countries for its education system. This has less to do with innate intelligence than with the free market created by the Milton Friedman Voucher Act of 2011. Pre-Friedman America was not that bright, because the original citizens were primarily educated by a government monopoly system -- in Washington, D.C., even opponents of The Friedman Voucher Act avoided the public schools like they they they were government facilities run by union labor. (See Presidents Clinton and Obama.)

America became well-educated after the Constitution separated schools from state, thus ensuring that schools could only survive if they got butts into desks. While state-sponsored education withered in Eritrea, American education has been a hive of activity: from the Gates Foundation Schools, which taught close to an eighth of the country in the half century after passage of the Friedman Voucher Act, to the modern megaschools founded by The Jonas Brothers.


Dr Ralph said...

...thus confirming my fear that all this Free Market / Libertarian talk is evidence our friend WS has joined a cult religion.

TarrantLibertyGuy said...

Yes Dr. Ralph. WS, by using the 'opiate of the masses', in this case, the Cult of Liberty, he has become an enemy of the state.

Perhaps he should be sent to a 'Re-education Center'... a government facility headed by union members.

I noticed your son is leaning towards a PRIVATE university. May dear sweet clean baby Jesus continue to bless George Mason University. My children of the proletariat are attending state schools... That's not really irony, but it's getting close.

Have your son check out the link. Where else can you get face time with Walter Williams!

Dr Ralph said...

TLG - you know I love you, man.

WS started all this with an article about religiosity, then moved onto the Free Market. Invisible Hands? Unseen forces? I'm deeply suspicious and pray for him daily.

Seriously (there's a word you'll seldom hear me say) it's not that I'm opposed to free trade (I've previously sung the virtues of my overpriced, Chinese-made sneakers). The problem I have with the discussions here about the Free Market always comes down to black and white on the subject: for or against. Maybe it's just my days as an artist, but I prefer shades of gray. But I suspect you'd say it's like being slightly pregnant.

BTW -- not to burst your bubble but George Mason University (where I fear my offspring will soon be indoctrinated by the likes of Russell Roberts and Walter Williams) is a Virginia state school: public, not private. As are many fine institutes of higher learning, including Texas A&M, where the WS has entrusted his daughter. I note from your link that the esteemed Dr. Williams got his degrees from public schools (I'm not counting his honorary degree).

Dr Ralph said...

PS -- TLG: are you suggesting by your comment that belonging to a cult makes one an enemy of the state? I see nowhere in my previous posts that I've ever espoused that sentiment.

You must be confusing me with the Republicans -- during the previous 8 years they were the ones quick to label as unpatriotic and vaguely disloyal anyone who did not adhere to their rigid orthodoxy.

Me? I like kooks and weirdos.