WOLFF: The free exchange of pop culture

Ted Wolff

Tuesday’s release of “Halo 3” posed the same question asked every time a mega-popular franchise title is released: What possesses people to wait in line for hours at a time for the release of these pop-culture products?

That’s easy: Humans act, rationally or not. The more apt question is: What allows these fevered fans to act in such a manner? Only an economic system built on voluntary exchange that respects personal liberty in action.

Yet the overarching question of “why?” persists, and understandably so. We probe the depths of humanity to glean a source of understanding in comparison to our own actions.

Why do I prefer to splurge and purchase more expensive port wine when you pinch pennies and buy Boone’s Farm? Or, why do people “waste time” in line for “just” a video game, especially when you can easily buy it the next day? Aren’t there more important matters to tend to and better ways to spend money, such as studying for that test on Thursday or paying off student loans?

It depends. For you there may be; for others, not. Each of us acts in a manner we see best to maximize our current satisfaction, displacing our previous dissatisfaction. You wear plaid shorts because you think they accentuate your look; I refuse because I think they’re a ridiculous fad.

There is no one-size-fits-all shoe for human action. Simply put: Individuals act differently for different reasons, and one is no more objectively better than another. This is why the economic system within which individuals act is more important than those individuals’ actions.

The why question illuminates the importance of a voluntary exchange economic model – i.e. capitalism – because some people have certain ideas of precisely how others should act.

They are the wannabe central planners of society, wanting to dictate what a person should buy, how much and at what price through coercion. Despite the impossibility of knowing precisely what others want – I say tomato, you say potato – these people insist on imposing themselves upon others regardless of the objection.

The span of history testifies to the failures of these central planners, who often advertise under the guise of benevolence – tariff and antitrust laws to protect industries, but at higher costs; taxes to provide for retirement and a national debt, but at reduced incomes.

When Joseph Stalin nationalized Soviet agriculture to manage the economy, the result was mass starvation. When Franklin Roosevelt ordered the slaughter of 6 million pigs during the Great Depression to help raise prices, the result was further starvation.

When anyone coerces another to manage their economic well-being, the result is deleterious, not only because what others desire is ultimately unknown, but also because it is done by force.

It is only when individuals are free to voluntarily exchange goods and services that the plenitude of varied interests can sufficiently be served. The launch of “Halo 3” dazzled precisely because a mass of individuals valued and demanded this blockbuster game, not because of any value inherent in the product’s existence.

The mass gathering of “Halo” fans appropriately directed private enterprise to where a demand existed, rather than some central planner providing a supply and forcing demand to it.

I waited outside a GameStop inside a mall Monday evening for the “Halo 3” release. It was a delight to behold surrounding businesses open shop to satisfy hunger and entertainment where needed.

And inside of GameStop sat “Halo 3” baubles, where one customer snickered at the result of free market capitalism – as free as Alan Greenspan explained to Jon Stewart, with a central bank managing our money supply. Then, as customers emerged from GameStop with their beloved purchases, my friend scoffed at those who had bought the $130 version of the game with a collector’s edition helmet – a boondoggle by his standards.

But the fact of whether you agree with the economic decisions of another is secondary to the ability and freedom of that person to make such decisions. That’s the beauty of free, voluntary exchange: I’m free to do as I please, and so are you.

– Ted Wolff is a senior in technical communication from Newell.