Capitalism: For Anything You Want

Capitalism: For Anything You Want to Be — I'm sure this point has been emphasized and re-emphasized to the point of excruciating boredom in the pages of Reason, but I just wanted to stress it myself.
I was chatting with my roommate, who is very bright, and very reasonable, and has fairly refined taste. Thus, he tends to disdain fast food, and shopping malls, and big box stores, and so forth. He was complaining about the malign influences of consumer culture, mass marketing, and so forth that lead so many of us to lead small, shallow, blinkered lives.
I felt compelled to point out that all his carefuly chosen classical and indie music CDs and the funky ethnic restaurants he likes are for-profit enterprises. Kramerbooks, where he had just purchased a Camus volume, is not a charity. Nor are the boys' dance clubs he frequents, or the stores here he shops for clothes, or buys his High Art Cinema DVDs. It's all capitalist consumer culture, I insisted, and you've used it very expertly to build a style and identity.
The protesters constantly visiting DC use it to buy hemp necklaces, Chomsky books, Fugazi records, and so forth. National Review readers use it to buy William Bennett's Treasury of Heroic Stories for Warmongering Boys, Brooks Brother's blazers, Ronald Reagan commemorative plates, Veggie Tales videos, or whatever. So what's the problem? The problems were (1) marketing and advertising are coercive, and so people are getting what they're manipulated to want, not what's really good for them; and (2) in any case, people have shitty preferences, and it's a shame to have them catered to.
The short replies are (1) how did you become immune to the evil coercive marketing forces of Big Corporation, and how is it that not everyone likes the same things?; and, (2) don't be a snot.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center