You Are A Complete Moron, Francis Morrone
From dreadlocks to Starbucks, from PowerPoint to Pottery Barn,Americans today can't get enough of the delirious array of design that permeates their persons and environments. [T]oday's aesthetic profusion -- the choice of thirty-five thousand colors of plastic, fifteen hundred drawer pulls, thirty thousand fonts, motifs from nearly every culture that has ever existed -- serves a variety of tastes and circumstances. What's remarkable is that this profusion is so readily, immediately available, in stores and on the Web. Thousands of home-decorating items available at middle-class retail stores were,not very long ago, available only at enormous expense through professional designers who dealt with -- for the trade only -- merchants.
This aesthetic plenitude fuels our economy.Producers compete on the basis of styling, and it's not just women's coats and automobiles we're talking about. It's paper clips, and pagers, and letter openers, and shoelaces, and bath mats, and bandages, and ballpoint pens. There may well be not a single item of household or personal use that is not now available in some professionally styled -- and usually quite attractive -- variant.
The simple point I wish to make: capitalism or economic development precedes the explosion of amenities we enjoy in our lives today. It is a mistake to assert that "this aesthetic plenitude fuels our economy." While these products may cater to consumer demands, the production of these luxuries is not possible without prior savings, capital accumulation and rising standards of living--not the other way around.
On the other hand, I love how Morrone is praising Postrel for merely pointing out that as civilization develops economically, products once available only to the King are available to the masses. Postrel's description of these results is hardly a profound insight.
But, Morrone does make an interesting point when he criticizes Postrel for claiming that the aesthetic value of these new products increases the "value" above the mere dollar amount, sort of a "value-added" argument. Postrel may want to brush up on subjective value theory a bit before attempting another great analysis of our modern economy. (Personal note: Although I haven't read the book, I'm pretty sure I met Postrel in 1998 or 1999 at a California Repbulican Party function in Anaheim, Ca. She was signing one of her other books at the time, I believe. From this, two questions emerge: 1) What the hell was she doing with the Idiots and 2) What the hell was I doing with the Idiots? In my defense, I must reveal that I was barely an undergraduate at the time. As for Postrel . . . "currency chasin'" as my hip hop friends might say?)