Samsung is Right: Markets Give the People What They Want

Samsung’s latest advert in the UK, which shows staff rigorously testing mobile phone products, features a song entitled ‘Give The People What They Want’ by 70’s R&B legends The O’Jays.

The point of the advert, obviously, is to show that Samsung gives its customers what they want, which explains why they chose a song that was popular over four decades ago and not one that is popular now. It’s the perfect soundtrack because it repeats as a musical mantra the rule or principle that guides everything Samsung, and indeed any company does: give the people what they want.

They don’t do this out of some extraordinary goodness in their hearts, but because it’s the only way to stay in business. Which is great, when you think about it, because it means we don’t have to rely on the existence of extraordinary goodness in people to get cool gadgets that add much value to our lives. All that’s required is the economic freedom for people to act peacefully in their own self-interest.

I think it’s wonderful that Samsung’s marketing team chose this O’Jays track. Not just because I happen to love the song, but even more so because the song’s original meaning was political. Look at these lyrics.

“Well, it’s about time for things to get better
We want the truth, the truth and no more lies
We want freedom, justice and equality
I want it for you and I want it for me…

People want better education now, now
People want better food to eat
People want, hey, better housing…”

The writers were clearly talking politics. They were speaking to politicians, the supposed ‘managers’ of society, not the managers of businesses like Samsung. Indeed, Long before Samsung used it, the song’s very catchy chorus was utilised by Barack Obama’s election campaign team in 2008.

The song was political and it has a political history. But the way Samsung used it transformed it from a song articulating what people think governments should be doing to one reminding the world what producers in free markets are actually doing now and have been doing for centuries – giving the people what they want.

In re-purposing the song, Samsung has broadcast a profound message to the world, one which people today still need to hear: free markets give the people what they want. Companies like Samsung are the only organisations successfully managing to give the people what they want. Countless governments have aimed to, but failed to. Today’s governments are trying but also failing. Future governments will also. Hence the ceaseless yearning of people for governments to give them what they want, articulated by artists like the O’Jays.

And it’s not just what some might call ‘non-essential’ goods like mobile phones that companies like Samsung give to the people. A diverse array of enterprises give the people an abundance of everything they need to survive and everything they want to thrive. Not only that, many of them give people things they didn’t even yet know they needed or wanted. This being the product of market competition, which in turn is an effect of economic freedom.

Businesses don’t just pop into existence, of course, they are started by entrepreneurs. Who are, as the Foundation for Economic Education nicely describes them, those people who “…create value by moving resources into more productive uses…” by “…innovating new products or processes to replace old ones and by discovering unnoticed opportunities to profit and acting on those opportunities.”

This is the virtual miracle of freedom. The amazing consequence of the creative use of human energy combined with the spontaneous order of free market capitalism. Just think, who else would give the people what they want in the absence of these forces of freedom? Governments? Not a chance in hell.

Politicians, lawmakers and bureaucrats can’t even give people, at low price and high quality, things they don’t want. Let alone the things they do want at a price and standard better than markets can. Even with endless funding and legal force at their disposal. Surrounded by a perverse incentive structure and being unable to access the “wisdom of the market”, as Leonard Read so eloquently phrased it, they are doomed to fail.

Whether they intended to or not, the people who made Samsung’s latest advert did a great thing. By raising producers in free markets such as Samsung above parasitical governments, they well and truly put politicians in their place. And they put the mass-producing enterprise back in its rightful place: as the only feasible and reliable provider for the masses.

Samsung doesn’t make perfect products that perfectly please everyone. No company does. And markets aren’t perfect. They don’t produce perfect results because humans are imperfect creatures with imperfect knowledge. But the closest we can get to perfection is through markets. Governments, in contrast, only push us further away. What’s more, they only have the potential to push us as far away from perfection as it’s possible to get.

Samsung is right. Markets give the people what they want.

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