The ``greed decade'' may be history, but you'd not prove it by
my recent clipping pile.
A California firm will trim your Christmas tree for up to
$3,000. Silicone calf implants for men are the rage. The U.S.
Postal Service proclaimed the North Pole to be in Atlanta, peddling
the rights to Santa's zip code to Coca Cola. Pat Sajak auctioned to
People magazine exclusive coverage of his wedding.
Though a lover of free markets, I find these examples obscene.
On the other hand, I am enthralled by the revolutions in Eastern
Europe. It made 1989 the most propitious year for human freedom
since the French Revolution in 1789.
Oddly, there is a direct connection between those calf implants
and the demise of Nicolae Ceausescu's Stalinist regime in Romania.
Freedom in Eastern Europe has been brought about by markets,
televisions, fax machines, microchips, copiers and the economic
rebirth of West Germany and Japan as much as by Mikhail Gorbachev,
Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel.
As Time magazine observed in its first of the '90s issue,
``Markets are now more valuable than territory, information more
powerful than military hardware.'' Thus, although Gorbachev was
Time's easy pick as person of the decade, there were alternatives -
Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Adam Smith and Marshall McLuhan.
In the 1960s, the power of real-time televised images burst upon
the scene. The American viewing public had no stomach for seven
years of nightly footage of young men returning to the U.S. in body
bags from Vietnam.
That story was just repeated in Eastern Europe with a different
twist. High ground, the traditional objective of military
tacticians, has become the central TV station. The Romanians
engaged in a bloody battle for control of TV - which amounts to
control of instant public information.
Information media played other roles in Eastern Europe. Video
reports of Poland's revolution, for example, seeped into the homes
of East Germans via West Germany. TV also dispensed graphic daily
reminders of the booming consumer society on the other side of the
The recent explosion of information technology has finally borne
the global village prophesied by Marshall McLuhan 30 years ago.
Part of the information-technology revolution is frivolous - e.g.,
People's battle for pictorial rights to a TV host's wedding. But
such frivolity is part and parcel of entrepreneurial capitalism.
And make no mistake, entrepreneurial capitalism, warts and all,
is the engine that made this the most dramatic year for liberty in
the last 200.
Adam Smith's invisible hand spawned chichi Christmas tree
trimmers. But it also delivered Apple computers, CNN, Canon fax
machines, Xerox copiers, U.S. rock concerts in Moscow, the United
Colors of Benetton. …