Marketing as the Wrist of the Invisible Hand

In the past, I’ve told a handful of key stories to explain why I’ve complemented my main major of economics with marketing. This covers things from refining the skill of persuasive communication, learning to see from other perspectives, and understanding the incentives that drive economic exchanges. Truth is, it simply just happened. I fell in love with both marketing and economics courses– all thanks to the remarkable professors teaching them. I simply was obedient to the best advice I’ve ever heard: follow where the good people go.

It might be because the brains of economics majors are finely tuned to pick up on economic insights everywhere, or it might merely be narrative bias, but a recent class assignment has led me to appreciate yet another aspect of the relationship between marketing and economics.

In Econ 101, you may have learned that markets coordinate self-interested exchanges for the good of society, generally solving the economic problem of allocating scarce resources to their highest valued use. This is often referred to as the phenomena of the “invisible hand,” as explained by Adam Smith (link if you’re interested in remedying my poor simplification.) I say that marketing is the wrist of this invisible hand, as it directs the flow of information which usually provides the basis by which individuals and firms decide which things to exchange, how to price them, and where to next innovate.

In “Marketing’s Contributions to Society,” Wilkie and Moore summarize that:

“In a market-based system, consumers’ response to marketers’ offerings drive supply allocations and prices. Depending on society’s decisions on public versus private ownership, the aggregate marketing system plays a greater or lesser role in allocating national resources” (205).

In a sense, marketers act as the ambassadors between the individual and the firm. Goods and services will be provided as are communicated by the individual and interpreted by the marketer. The health of this essential relationship will determine the overall success of the economy, as if it were guided toward prosperity by a benevolent invisible hand. For me, the practical takeaway is this: if I don’t like how the “invisible hand” is functioning, maybe it’s time to assess the signals I give to marketing departments through my consumption choices.

In my studies, a sort of chicken-and-egg situation has been presented when it comes to determining whether marketing forms culture or whether culture forms marketing. Or even, if the individual has wants that marketers address or if marketers create those wants in the individual. This is nonsense. In my four years of courses and two years of work as the Director of Marketing for a local publisher, it is clear to me that marketing responds to signals from the consumer. The goal is to create value for the consumer; entrepreneurs introducing new products or services are still connecting it to some inherent desire on the part of the potential buyers. Thus, the consumption decisions that you and I engage in (or not) are what determine the commercials we see, billboards we drive by, and the products that are created. In our marketplace (not so much in government), individuals always have the power to say no.

The higher builds upon the lower, but the two must not be confused. The fulfillment of marketing’s promises, which is concrete and true in a sense, is obviously limited to the visible material world. While my wonderful little laptop has greatly augmented my search for knowledge and joy (hello Pinterest home decor ideas), it’s consequently my daily task to remember that I do not need it. Arthur Brooks explains this point well in Abundance Without Attachment. Finally, I’ve shared this before but it merits frequent repetition:

“It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards “having” rather than being”…It is therefore necessary to create life-styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments” (Centesimus Annus, John Paul II).

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Leadership is a Choice

“The majority prove their worth by keeping busy. A busy life is the nearest thing to a purposeful life.”

―Eric Hoffer

Never foregoing an opportunity to partially quench my burning curiosity for this world that we live in, I passed the three hour sojourn to Omaha this weekend to the pleasant chatter of the “Smart Women, Smart Power” podcast. But before I dig in, let me take a moment to savor the fact that I can sit in this darling cafe at the end of a hectic work day, spearmint-lavender tea in hand, and write my thoughts down. I enjoy a remarkable amount of control over my life right now, and for that I am grateful. This post will be focused on those who have leveraged the things they have control over in order to create a life that is busy with purpose. Though the lectures were refreshingly spaced by yours truly with her favorite country tunes and the occasional Sound of Music melody, I managed to complete the series this weekend and have listed below my favorites, accompanied by a handful of takeaways. Enjoy!

Carly Fiorina – A Candid Conversation

“Leadership is a choice,” an excerpt that I borrowed for my title, stuck with me the most from this podcast. Funny how many things–leadership,  courage, happiness, love– come down to a choice, a choice that we are presented with every fresh minute. Now whether you are ready to cast your vote for her or would laugh at the prospect, it is tough not to admire Carly’s conviction and courage. I would argue that our society is water-logged in a pitiful sea of lukewarmness, an aversion towards caring too much or being too informed, that can only be remedied by people who ignite a trend of educating themselves and others on topics they hold dear.

Combating Islamic Extremism

This is a scary, revulsive topic– which is exactly why it ought to be addressed. Not only does the point of parental responsibility need to be made more often, but we all have something to learn from these youth whose strive for purpose, something worth dying for, allows them to be seduced by such cruel destruction. Awareness of our priceless identity as human beings must be remembered and nurtured above all else, since that is the light by which the world and our mission in it are illuminated.

Mobile Money – Foreign Aid Disrupter?

I can’t quite put my finger on how development aid through emerging technology became such a passion of mine, but it certainly has made its home in my heart. I love this podcast for the incredibly specific examples, clarity of economic reasoning, and overall exciting prospect that it proposes. Now, who’s visiting Africa with me?


To conclude, it’s really about being custodians of our own backyards. And if we happen to have had backyards all over the world, then that privilege just makes our duty that much broader. The good news is that what the world needs already lies within us. uinfluence