Tag Archives: destruction

Free Market or Regulated Market? Neither!

A see-saw on a playground
Photo: nzgabriel via Flickr Creative Commons

I feel like we’re stuck on a “market see-saw.”  We have the “free” market on one side and the regulated market on the other. In response to various crises, we’re asked to trust in one of these markets to find the solution.

To address hunger, we can wait for free marketers to profit from feeding people. Or we can wait for the government regulated market to monetize food aid that feeds hungry people.

To address our ecological crisis, we’re offered the choice of “sustainable” technology or “unsustainable” technology. A Lincoln Navigator or a Prius. Plastic bags or cloth bags. Coal-fired electricity or solar panel powered electricity. Not once do we learn of a “third option”—a way off of this market see-saw. 

When asked how to address the devastation of 33,000 people dying in traffic crashes each year in the US, the free marketer says, “let Google design driverless cars to make driving around safer.” Meanwhile, the regulated marketer pushes for increased government funding to “fix” streets that slow down traffic and feature sidewalks and bike lanes. But isn’t there another way to halt the carnage?

Indeed there is—a third way that doesn’t involve markets at all. It’s a way that champions use over operation of tools; a way that privileges people’s congregation on the commons rather than on state-regulated “public property.” A way that designs places for humans and nonhumans, rather than machines.

The way I’m referring to also treads lightly on this earth. It wouldn’t dare call driving a Prius “sustainable.” Many of us like to call this “third way” the “vernacular.” It’s a term whose original meaning connotes the homebred, the homespun, the off-market, the non-commodity.

As we’ve explored elsewhere, vernacular activities flourish all around us. They’re community gardens and home brewing sessions, hand-knit afghans and people-powered bicycles, hand-crafted kombucha and home-cooked meals. Vernacular activities enliven places, connecting people in meaningful, convivial ways.

All markets do is push us to consume together, whether it’s shopping Walmart of shopping local. The vernacular, on the other hand, prods us to act together, to directly satisfy our own and each others’ needs of hunger, thirst, camaraderie.

Markets care not for our needs, but instead call for “solutions.” They do so by calling for more technology to get us out of the messes originally brought to us by technology.  Free and regulated marketers alike call for desalination plants, geo-engineering, carbon capture with underground storage. These technologies are meant to fix the ocean dead zones, rising sea levels, loss of 200 species each day, toxic air, crop failure, drought and desertification brought to us by industrial technologies.

But these “solutions” merely dampen or delay the impacts of our social and ecological crises. The gas-hungry Range Rovers of today become the sleek battery-powered Teslas of tomorrow. At least we see and hear and taste the Range Rover’s toxic pollution. With the Tesla, we’re kept away from the ruinous rare-earth metal mining that makes its high-powered battery possible.

Markets ensure their own survival, nothing else. How many times have we heard that the “economy” would fail if people suddenly stopped consuming? Markets need us to consume. Under markets, life itself is little more than a way station of destruction on the path to the grave. Whether you drive a Lincoln Navigator or a Toyota Prius, you’re contributing to the destruction.

And yet, there are vernacular peoples! Folks who practice rejuvenation, not destruction. They know that life’s really about being an active participant in the world. It’s not about contributing to a company’s “triple bottom line” or earning wages to spend on things and vacations that transcend need or sanity. Life’s about living together, struggling together, working together, playing together. It’s about creating beauty in this world.

Nothing is commodified or mass-produced. No one wastes time pondering how to “monetize” an idea. Vernacular peoples avoid the toil and tyranny of wage labor and they cast a skeptical eye on “novel technologies.” Abundance rather than scarcity is their operating principle.

Markets, no matter how free or regulated will never be ecological or equitable or sane. They are products of impoverished thinking. They are detached and dehumanized systems; systems that must grow and expand in order the survive—as economies grow, so must the governments that regulate them.

The injustices we speak of today will never be adequately addressed using capitalism (free market) or socialism (regulated market). Social isolation, suicide, drug abuse, racism, domestic violence, habitat loss, childhood obesity are endemic in socialist countries just as they are in capitalist ones.

A third way out of these crises—these “first world problems”—is not only desirable and possible, it’s necessary. We claim to care about the health and well-being of people and our non-human brethren, but we stubbornly remain on the market see-saw. There’s a whole wide world beyond the playground. Time to jump off the see-saw!

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