Market-driven: Capitalism’s Achilles Heel.

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How many times have we heard it, “Don’t worry, the market will sort it out” or “Competition is the key to fair pricing?” Will the market really sort it out? Is the competition fair? Does it even exist? We now have ample evidence that not only does the market not sort it out but that often competition is so hobbled or non-existent that something as simple as baby formula can disappear from store shelves overnight, leaving millions at risk. Indeed, the market itself can dry up in a matter of months as it did during the Pandemic, leaving supply chains in tatters and a workforce in perpetual quarantine and demand gone. But these examples are indicative of a larger flaw in the tired market-driven trope of supply and demand.

There is so much more going on in the economy than mere supply and demand that it boggles the mind so much emphasis is placed on that. Monetary policy, banking and lending, interest rates, marketing and advertising, unethical sourcing, misguided demand, uneducated masses and political agendas are all things that can turn “the market” into a weapon against the people instead of a force for good. It sort of boils down to a simple question: Is the market helping us or hurting us? To answer this, we have to be honest and confront not only the current moment but where we are headed, where the market is leading us. At the moment, the market is leading us over multiple cliffs and nobody seems able to stop it.

The gun market in America is a perfect metaphor (and example) for how markets can harm us and literally kill us, even as they operate “normally.” The same with the automobile market and many others. The success of the market is disconnected from the success of society or even the planet and its biosphere, which makes no sense. Well it makes perfect sense if you don’t actually care about market consequences or long-term harm and ONLY about how robust and profitable the market is—the myopic, greed-based approach.

Some would say this is not the market’s fault but rather the unethical exploitation of the market by unscrupulous businesses. But that supposes they actually know better. It also doesn’t take into account the prevailing psychology of the market which could involve a large chain of “unethical” suppliers, each one turning a blind eye on the end results of their collective efforts. Like a steel supplier for guns may be perfectly normal and also sell to non-lethal tool makers and so excuses themselves from responsibility. Also, to fully exploit a market, it always helps to have sheepish buyers lacking education or critical thinking skills who are easily led into purchases against their own interests.

Others might say this is the job of lawmakers and regulators to create the boundaries and this is often the case. Which means markets themselves are incapable of policing themselves and must be babysat and controlled. Of course, the market suppliers and manufacturers are in a constant battle to de-regulate and change the laws by hiring armies of lobbyists and, to a large degree, they succeed so the market in this way is rigged and not fair and not operated in the public’s best interest. Was it ever in the public interest or is the nature of business to just let the market sort that out? Feels like a paradox or at least a conflict of interest.

Landlords vs. Tenants

Another example of the market failing us is the relationship between landlords and tenants. Many times, entire towns or neighborhoods can suffer a type of gentrification or essentially a buyout from wealthy new tenants and owners so the only folks who can afford to live there are next-level income and the tenants who remain find a larger portion of their income required to live in the same place. Landlords will simply say the market is allowing them to charge more and the new tenants can pay and business is business. However, this can and does change the character of the area as some of the more interesting artistic or salt-of-the-Earth workers, often essential workers, are forced out of town, leaving a sort of dull-spirited crowd devoid of the diversity and charm. What’s amazing is even millionaires can be pushed out by billionaires who can come in and buy everything up. Don’t believe me? Take a trip to Aspen, CO some time.

Many cities have implemented tenant rights and regulations such as rent control that can slow this down, but inevitably the prime areas are bought up and prices soar far above inflation or cost of living increases. I was able to thrive in New York City in the nineties with rents of $300 to $600 for a 1 bedroom apartment but now you would need 2 or 3 roommates in the same space. But more than likely, a financial type has now moved in because they are the “money” people who can easily afford the outrageous rents. Many expensive places are not even occupied but rented by wealthy internationals who keep a pied a terre at the ready. A landlord’s dream. Renting has become so lucrative that many folks no longer sell their properties all across the nation and can even use their properties as primary income.

This can all be traced back, as I have written many times, to the imaginary nature of property ownership in which case not only is “ownership” fabricated out of whole cloth but so is the valuation completely arbitrary. But that is a digression into the deepest roots of the problem, money itself.

The Real Cost

Who pays for all this “market freedom?” Everybody does. Every single human on Earth. We not only personally pay more than we should financially speaking but even more insidious is the price we pay as living beings. The Oil market is a huge culprit in Climate Change. An entire thesis could be written on how these markets are manipulated on a global scale, where oil company profits are almost guaranteed to soar while family budgets are squeezed to the point of breaking. This is a market, like many markets that are all TAKE and no GIVE. But unlike other markets, this one is actually destroying the Biosphere of the Earth. Coastal cities WILL need to move. Large Superstorms and fires WILL wreck swaths of land. Guess who won’t pay a dime for any of that? The manipulators of the rigged market and purchasers of politicians—Big Oil. We will be left with the tax burden to clean up these messes and we will foot this cost on top of what we already paid for the inflated product in the first place. Likewise, we pay the gun toll in funerals and shattered bones and childhood anxiety. We pay the pharma toll in addictions. We will pay many more tolls well into the future.

Everybody Plays a Role

Yet, as usual, it’s more complicated than that and this is the part where we must confess our own role as buyers, the demanders. Sure enough as soon as oil prices go down for a sustained period, we go out and buy larger cars and SUV’s that we can now afford to fill up, creating an un-virtuous cycle of even greater carbon emissions that accelerates our own demise. That makes no sense but it’s exactly what the market has done to us. Someone had to make those larger vehicles and vigorously market them to us. Someone also had to elect lawmakers who enabled it all, against our real interests. So yes, we are in many ways just as culpable in our lax voting practices and eagerness to double down because today we feel OK. We can’t see the forest for the trees.

Ideally, the public would temper its demand for harmful products by being better informed and electing better representatives. That requires more wisdom.

Conclusion

This demonstrates that free markets are not as great nor as free as they are cracked up to be. This itself is well known. Only a truly delusional person thinks there is anything close to a fair and balanced free market in operation. The market will NOT work it out. The market behaves more like like a cancer that consumes everything in its path and those seeking profits will always seek more growth, just like a tumor that has no care for the body it is invading and taking over. A healthy market would be more like a heart organ, taking nutrition and oxygen but then giving reliable pumping of blood to keep the host alive. But make no mistake, the host WILL reach its limits and the tumor WILL kill the host if left unchecked or untreated. In this way markets will be our downfall unless they are brought into balance within a grander scheme of things. Markets must be rethought holistically, not operating outside the bounds of ecology or biology or social well-being. After all, what good is a market that kills its host, the society it operates in? Until we come to grips with the PURPOSE of a market being greater than a number on a spreadsheet, we will all suffer.