by Don Matthews
Early last month, the Georgia legislature approved a bill to change the state flag, and the governor signed the bill into law. So now, we Georgians have a new state flag.
Or do we? The market, it appears, has vetoed the flag change.
Oh, the new flag will soon be flying atop government buildings. But since the government changed the state flag, sales of the old state flag a pretty flag which displays the Georgia state emblem behind a field of blue on its left side and the Confederate battle flag on its right have gone through the roof. So have sales of t-shirts, swim suits, license plates, belt buckles, bumper stickers, glassware, and numerous other items emblazoned with the Confederate battle flag.
Collectibles is a firm here in Glynn County that sells old state flags, new state flags, and an assortment of Confederate battle flag paraphernalia. The proprietors of Collectibles report that, since the government adopted the new state flag, sales of the old state flag, as well as battle flag emblazoned paraphernalia, are up 40 to 50 percent.
Sheffield's, an establishment 45 miles up the road in Wayne County, has seen a similar increase in its sales of old state flags and battle flag paraphernalia.
And The Cavalier Shoppe, a retail and mail order firm in Bruce, Mississippi, reports a whopping increase in orders from Georgians, primarily for the old state flag, but also for battle flag items. (The Cavalier Shoppe also reports a sharp increase in sales of Mississippi state flags. Later this year, Mississippians will vote on whether or not to change their own state flag.)
Neither Collectibles, Sheffield's, nor The Cavalier Shoppe has received a single order for the new Georgia flag.
Some Georgians are buying the old state flag as a keepsake. But the increase in sales of battle flag paraphernalia indicates that something much deeper than nostalgia is behind the increase in demand for the old state flag. Indeed, in the residential sections of Glynn County, old state flags are now flying where no flags flew before.
The Georgia state flag episode is a first-order case of the Law of Unintended Consequences. The state flag was changed to make the Confederate battle flag less visible. But by shrinking the battle flag to a speck on the new state flag, the governor and the legislature stirred some dormant passions. Now, the battle flag is more visible around the state than ever before.
Our state flag episode also reveals how markets are making government increasingly irrelevant in American society.
People like to think that the essence of democratic government is choice. But democratic government is still government, and government at its core is an instrument of compulsion and coercion. The US government forces us to pay up on April 15 and plenty of other times during a year whether we ordered its services or not. And that's a democratically elected government. Imagine what happens when government is less constrained. (Of course, we know what happens when government is less constrained. For details, see The Black Book of Communism.)
Elections don't change the essence of government. Elections merely grant the majority its choice from a slim menu of tyrants.
But the essence of markets and the freedom that private property rights bring is choice. Nobody in a market can pull the kind of coercive stunts that government pulls.
And over the years, the range of choices that markets have made available to people has exploded.
The amazing increase in the types of consumer goods now available from grocery store items to running shoes to web sites is apparent to all. Perhaps less noticeable but far more significant is the growth of market substitutes for goods that many believe only government can provide.
As government plods along, markets are honing in on government and its protected domain. And people are increasingly choosing the markets' options.
More and more people are circumventing the government's postal monopoly by paying their bills through financial companies or over the internet. More and more parents are pulling their children out of government schools to enroll them in private schools, or to home school, an increasingly attractive option thanks to all the resources markets have made available to home-schooling parents.
Not only are people increasingly resorting to markets to supersede government, they are increasingly making market choices to protect themselves against some of government's more serious failures. To protect against Social Security's going bust, they invest more in mutual funds. To protect themselves and their property when government doesn't seem up to the job, they buy weapons and security services provided by markets.
And now, when people don't like the government's new flag, they go to the market and buy and fly the flag they prefer. That's what has happened here in Georgia. The market has overridden the governor and the legislature and has retained the old state flag.
Don Matthews is a columnist for the Brunswick (Ga.) News.