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Little Freedom in 'Free Market,' Reader Says

November 21, 2000

One doesn't have to look very far for confirmation of social critic Thomas Frank's thesis that our infinite variety of "choice" is illusory ("The Contrarian Manifesto," Nov. 12).

Consider housing. A while back I heard a developer say that he builds vast tracts of identical houses that are utterly automobile dependent because "that's what people want." It may be what people buy (though not developers; you don't find the rich here), but what choice is there besides some other developer's tract?

It is much more difficult for the average buyer to obtain financing to build a house of his own design on his own lot. The ultimate reason is that the home mortgage has become a financial instrument that is bundled, traded, bid up and down, like pork-belly futures. And for the convenience of the real estate investment trusts that play this game, the properties have to conform to very strict and standardized formats. The physical house itself is virtually an afterthought compared with the primacy of its existence as an instrument of financial speculation.

But Frank's larger point is the most insidious aspect of all this--that we are subtly being sold the substitution, i.e., withdrawal, of political democracy in exchange for this notion that our democracy consists of existing as consumers within this "free market."

KENT SOUTHARD

Dana Point

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