They don’t just create jobs…
One of the most common complaints of a free market system comes from consumers who, while desiring a nascent product, are too in-affluent to buy it. I frequently see this sentiment emerge while reading the various technology and automotive blogs across the internet, where new products are introduced several times each day. Experienced bloggers and commentators are adept at shrugging off their disappointment in these situations; they know that consumers need only wait, and the product will eventually become affordable. Many people, however, don’t seem to understand how this occurs, and their bewilderment too often turns to impatience. To alleviate this problem, let me attempt an explanation of how a good or service becomes affordable.
First, an entrepreneur/producer has an idea for a product, either to create a new one or to improve upon an existing one. Because the product is relatively new and strange, the cost of building it is high. It requires lots of investment, research, time, and labor to create. The high cost of production necessarily translates into a high sale price.
Because the initial sale price of the new product is so high, relatively few people will be able to buy it outright—this small group of people consists of the most affluent among us. However, if the rich buy enough of the product, potential producers will interpret this as evidence of growing demand, and they will enter the market to capitalize on it. The subsequent combination of increased product supply from numerous competing firms, and streamlined production lines, causes prices to fall until profit margins can no longer support a growing number of producers. At this point, the market has reached the equilibrium of supply and demand, and the product is now affordable for the greatest number people.
Rich people are incessantly demonized by the envious and the despotic, but consider how our economy would be different if they were suddenly absent. Without rich people, new and expensive products would never be purchased. This would send a signal to potential entrepreneurs and producers that there is little likelihood for a return on their investments, which would seriously hamper the research and development of new products. It is difficult to imagine a world in which the shelves of our stores aren’t constantly being stocked with new products—a world where a better life is just out of reach—but such a world is possible when affluence is erased.
New products are risky. There’s a substantial chance that a new product will fail upon reaching the market. It is thanks to entrepreneurs and producers, who risk their time and resources on ideas, that we have an abundance of ever-improving tools and technology. However, we also owe thanks to the most affluent consumers who help determine if a product is viable. Because they’re willing to take a risk in buying a new product, the rest of us are eventually able to afford a higher standard of living.