Abba Lerner's Thoughts on Consumer Sovereignty
By David Henderson
One of my favorite economists on the left was the late Abba Lerner. In my biography of him for The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, I wrote:
Abba Lerner was the Milton Friedman of the left. Like Friedman, Lerner was a brilliant expositor of economics who was able to make complex concepts crystal clear. Lerner was also an unusual kind of socialist: he hated government power over people’s lives. Like Friedman, he praised private enterprise on the ground that “alternatives to government employment are a safeguard of the freedom of the individual.” Also like Friedman, Lerner loved Free Markets. He opposed Minimum Wage laws and other price controls because they interfered with the price system, which he called “one of the most valuable instruments of modern society.”
I also quoted one of my favorite quotes from Lerner:
One of the deepest scars of my early youth was etched when my teacher told me, “You do not want that,” after I had told her that I did. I would not have been so upset if she had said that I could not have it, whatever it was, or that it was very wicked of me to want it. What rankled was the denial of my personality—a kind of rape of my integrity. I confess I still find a similar rising of my hackles when I hear people’s preferences dismissed as not genuine, because influenced by advertising, and somebody else telling them what they “really want.”
The quote is from Abba Lerner, “The Economics and Politics of Consumer Sovereignty.” American Economic Review 62 (May): 258–266. I recommend reading his whole article.