Where idealism meets consumerism

Economists think about entrepreneurship and consumer daydreams.

Andrew Cooper / Miramax Films / File
Leonardo DiCaprio as eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese's 'The Aviator.' Can building a better mousetrap improve lives? Where do dreams of a better future intersect with an inventor's drive and a shopper's hunger? Entrepreneurship.

Virginia Postrel offers a pithy feast, a meditation on entrepreneurship and meaning. Highlight:

The illusions that spur entrepreneurial ventures and consumer daydreams point to the nonmaterial side of markets. Markets not only expand health and comfort, providing a sustaining material existence. They also spur ambition and imagination, the quest for achievement and the pursuit of meaning. They give us an opportunity to exercise our creativity, to enjoy the satisfactions of absorbing, productive work, and to fashion and express our identities. 

Postrel challenges me to reflect: Why do I covet the consumption of new goods? First, I dream of a longer, healthier life for my children and nephews and nieces. That alone: the prosperity of an innovative economy, is all I need to justify the irrationality of entrepreneurial capitalism. Second, a world without invention would limit my appreciation of beauty. How else can I explain why I enjoy snow skiing (and the invention and sale of ski lift tickets)? Third, I never let myself forget how dreary life as mere survival can be. Thank SERE for that. And thank memory and imagination. Have you not heard the elders speak of working the fields, working the mines? Those fields, and those mines, dangerous, hard, incessant. If we imagine and strive for a world where even the poorest humans can labor without pain, we are entrepreneurs.

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