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The Pet Rock versus Obamacare

by: paul a. ibbetson | published: 01 30, 2011

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In 1975 advertising executive Gary Dahl had one of the simplest and most rewarding marketing ideas of the decade. He placed a shiny little rock in a box decorated as an animal carrier and offered it to consumers to buy and keep as a “pet.”

Dahl marketed this (unique) product by reminding consumers of the unwanted expense, time and effort that conventional pets take compared to his lovable and low-maintenance “pet rock.” Within a six-month period, the Pet Rock received national fad appeal and Dahl made millions of dollars before market saturation and copycat competitors, in combination with the next line of fanciful fad products greatly diminished the short-lived pet rock craze.

If you asked me if the pet rock changed the world I would say no. However, if you asked me if the Pet Rock, when compared with the colossal Obama health care system that now looms over the country, will be seen as having more of a positive impact over time, I would say absolutely. Liberals will jump out of their skin at such a statement because Obamacare, with all its countless socialistic tentacles, is advertised as a cure-all for so many issues that the list of its potential good deeds is still being written. With all that said, I still pick the rock. Why? While both the Pet Rock and Obamacare fall within the category of goods and services, we have to look deeper to see what they really represent if we really wish to see their impact on the country.

The thing of importance that separates the two products from one another is the ideological foundations by which both are presented. Both the Pet Rock and Obamacare become relevant when we look at the issue of equality, though they are evaluated differently. Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman called these two competing ideologies on the perspective of equality, “equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.”

Gary Dahl’s pet rock is easily an example of the freedom of opportunity. Anyone could have created and marketed the idea of the Pet Rock, but it was Dahl who conceived the product and took the leap of faith with a possibility of succeeding or failing. What is of importance is that Dahl was not restricted from attempting to achieve wealth beyond people with less innovation in the marketplace. We can safely assume that at some point Dahl was more than likely approached by someone that spoke against selling a rock in a box as a pet. The point of significance here is that no one, most importantly not the government, tried to stop Dahl from attempting to move ahead of the pack. That’s America for you, or at least America in the 1970s.

Equality of opportunity, as Friedman aptly shows, is reflected within the Declaration of Independence with, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” This equality is greatly enhanced when all are allowed the freedom of opportunity to win and lose in the marketplace, to choose their own destiny as individuals. As important is the freedom of opportunity to try again when first attempts fail within the marketplace.

When applying equality of opportunity, we can easily replace Gary Dahl’s humble pet rock with Henry Ford’s Model T automobile or Bill Gates’ software magic at Microsoft, and the equation remains the same. Equality of opportunity does not guarantee riches or happiness but it opens the door for the pursuit thereof.

Conversely, Obamacare is openly advertised as an equality of outcome proposition. The problem is not a lack of compassion or good intentions here; the problem is innate within the mechanism by which this product is rendered to the people within the free market. To start with, Obamacare subverts the free market by requiring that all participate. The freedom to choose your participation level within the system is taken away under the guise that all will be guaranteed admittance.

As Friedman shows, the push for equality of outcome can only create an environment in which freedom is reduced and innovation is subsequently limited. Forced participation, reduced freedom of choice, skyrocketing costs and reduced quality of service are not simply potential dangers of the ideology of equality of outcome, they are inevitable realities. The divide between the intent for equality found within the Declaration of Independence and the reality of the implementation of equality of outcome is massive and fraught with negative consequences.   

One of these consequences is that implementing equality of outcome from which Obamacare is birthed within the free markets of America threatens to create a rancid enveloping fog of mentality that government-managed mediocrity is acceptable as the status quo. This is a dangerously contagious kind of thinking that will most certainly expand its way beyond this monstrous health care bill for years to come. Yes, when compared to the huge promotional campaigns of the glories of the new health care program, the pet rock may be seen as inconsequential; however, when both products are compared ideologically, the freedom of opportunity that made Dahl’s rock in the box a short-lived sensation had a more positive impact on the country than will Obamacare.

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