Freeman

June 1990

Volume 40, 1990

FEATURES

Consumer Sovereignty

JUNE 01, 1990 by BETTINA BIEN GREAVES

From time to time, insightful economists have described the operations of a market economy. Many have noted that no central planner is needed to tell producers what to produce, when to produce, how much to produce, and what quality to produce. Adam Smith, often called the "first economist," pointed out in 1776 that the butcher, the baker, and the brewer are guided as if by "an invisible hand." Frederic Bastiat remarked in 1845 that Parisians need not fear starving the next day, but could sleep peacefully in their beds, confident that the city would be provisioned during the night.

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For centuries, hierarchical models dominated human organizations. Kings, warlords, and emperors could rally groups--but also oppress them. Non-hierarchical forms of organization, though, are increasingly defining our lives. It's no secret how this shift has benefited out social lives, including dating, and it's becoming more commonplace even in the corporate world. But it has also now come even to organizations bent on domination rather than human flourishing, as the Islamic State shows. If even destructive groups rely on this form of entrepreneurial organization, then hierarchy's time could truly be coming to an end.
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