It seems to me that there is an increasing push within developed countries against markets as the preeminent organizing force of modernity. This isn't necessarily new; indeed, it is what Marx was against; it is what communism tried to resolve; it is largely the impetus behind the late nineties anti-globalism push; and it is what Occupy was largely all about.
Personally, I'm not anti-markets. They can be incredibly efficient, and democratic, means of organizing many things. The efficiencies within markets largely stem from their ability to reduce complexity to a simple proxy with which to conduct arbitrage and commerce: price. In this sense I'm referring to markets in the less restrictive (commercial) sense rather than the larger sense (which would integrate idea markets and such). The problem that I have with markets is that they can easily be captured, and the easiest path to capture a market is to restrict information flows.
Farmers in the United States understand what the price is for their crops; they can easily research trends within their profession to understand how to increase yields. Farmers in Burkina Faso largely do not (granted this is rapidly changing, but I'm only using this in service of the larger point). The difference is not only the farmers professional ability to cultivate although those may exist; the major difference is the information they receive.
Steve Ballmer can easily predict the precise time in which he should sell his Microsoft stock in order to avoid a major dip in price. I cannot. Again, the difference is not our relative ability to play the stock market game, but indeed it is the divergence in our information – he having much more than I as to the current state of play within Microsoft.
If the information flows are somewhat equalized then the competition aspects of the market – which are one of its highest values – can be implemented. Without some level of information equalization competition simply does not exist within the market.
This is why we have insider trading regimes. This is why the internet is so terribly powerful and has so drastically disrupted the previous industrial age status quo. Under the previous status quo, big was better precisely because big allowed you to gather, analyze, and act upon lots of information. In the information age big is not necessarily better because you do not have to be big to act upon lots of information (the gathering and analyzing may happen inside or outside of your organization).
The music industry is a good icon for what the differences between industrial age markets | information and information age markets | information. Previously large labels were important because they could afford to have recruiters understand many different beats (journalistic beats, not Kanye's) as well as having lots of market research as to what was selling and what was not. This was a massive competitive advantage. Now, however, even the smallest label can easily observe different beats across the world and the spectrum of genres without leaving their computer by simply following blogs, podcasts, and having a bandcamp / soundcloud / spotify / rdio account. Small labels can also gain an understanding of the market effects of their artists with a precision that Capital Records never could have understood in the 1980's. So, as far as information, there is only minor differences between small and large labels at this point. There are differences between the two which largely reduce to the amount of marketing an entity can put behind a piece of art – but with social media and online marketing reaching maturity those are also quickly collapsing (this is, however, not within the scope of what I'm speaking to with this post).
I have categorized this post as “politics” for a reason. What irks me about the push from the far left and far right against and for supremacy of the markets is that they are both largely missing the point. The point is not markets themselves. Markets are simply a mechanism. I wish that we would focus our political discussions a bit more on what actually makes markets work. Although there are other things to discuss, information flows are one of the predominant factors. If we want to fix health-care, then why are we not worrying much more about information flows within the health-care market (and information's paternal cousin: actual choice)? If we want to ensure that America's place as one of the center's of innovation within the world continues then why do we continue to work against opening up information flows by engaging in reductive arguments (markets good|markets bad) while those that understand the power of information to capture and control markets continue to operate behind the scenes to close things down.
Of course there are strides to increasing information flows. We have made absolutely astounding progress within my lifetime. And I hope that continues because we will be a better species for it.
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