Monday, 1 August 2011

Buying and Not Buying - A Cheap and Cheerful Respone to Market Fundamentalism

The easiest and quickest way to challenge the “people buy it” is to believe in a higher moral authority. What do I mean? I mean an authority that can say “This is wrong no matter how many people buy it”. If you believe in God, you are sorted *. There are lots of things God is opposed to, despite most people wanting to do them because "they are bad for people".

If you believe in an alternative to God, be it Goddess, Universe, life energy, the Creator, then you are good to go as well. Because all of these entities know better than us humans what is “right” and what is “wrong”, what is “good” and what is “bad”, it becomes much easier to say “yes, lots of people buy it, but that doesn’t make it good”.

This idea of questioning the will of the majority doesn’t sit well with our social democratic values. If you are squirming in your seat as you read this, comfort yourself that what you are experiencing is entirely normal. We have come to accept that “lots of people buying it” means that the product bought and the business that makes it must be good. It’s a sort of democracy through purchasing. Facing the statements “people buy it” or “the majority of people in society buy it” and replying “that doesn’t make it ok” is a difficult thing to do. And yet, you may have noticed, people still do it. Why?

Because no matter how much we are told that these products are good, there remains something in our heart of hearts that knows better. This should be enough to convince everyone that humans have an inbuilt moral compass. People can still tell when something is wrong, even if we are all blindingly doing it. For the record, market fundamentalists don’t believe in either God or a moral compass. Yes, it is precisely because it works against their interests. (And yes, it has a lot to do with what the Rich West is doing to Muslims.)

What you have to do in short is to stand up and call “foul” on something that is (seemingly) popular. It’s easier if you have a God/Creator to fall back upon. If you don’t, then trust your moral compass. But you will need this strength in order to question the system.

Focusing on the Absence of Competition

Now, I’m going to share with you a little trick that I use to deal with the towering force of “people buy it”. Here it is: “it doesn’t matter if people buy it; what matters is whether they can make an alternative”. (The phrasing may need some reworking). In other words: it doesn’t matter if people buy something because, at the end of the day, they can’t compete with it. People cannot open an alternative to Tesco, for instance. Small businesses have been “priced out”. This is unfair competition.

The strength of this argument lies in the fact that you are shedding light to this other side of the “market” equation. Nobody wants to bring this up because the whole illusion that “things are fine they way they are” would come crashing down. So whenever market fundamentalists talk about “people buying, businesses prospering and bad businesses dying out”, they conveniently forget to mention this other bit of their theory. That for “good businesses to prosper and bad businesses to die out” there must be more than one business.
The way their theory is actually defined, when you look into it, is “people open a business and sell X; but if someone else opens another business and sells better X, then the previous business either goes bust or finds a way to improve its X”.
And here is the reason why, even to their standards, our current system does not look like what they advocate: nobody can open a business and compete with the giants. Nobody can open a business and sell better “X”. Nobody can open a grocery shop and sell better products at cheaper prices than Tesco. Nobody can compete with the high street fashion labels, which ship their production to Thailand to pay less in wages. Nobody can compete with giant providers like “Sky” or “Virgin”.
And when nobody can compete with the giants, people have no choice but to work for them and buy their stuff.

Without a good amount of competition, even by the rules of the “free market”, there is no way for bad businesses to go “bust” because a better business has come along. Only fellow giants can compete with each other. Tesco and Asda can be rivals (and when you look into it, you find that they aren’t), but it would be pretty impossible for you or me to open a grocery store and stand a chance against them.

So when people talk about “people buy it”, what we should ask is “yes, but what are their changes in making something different?”.

You find that the bigger the giants gets, the smaller “we” get in return. And the smaller the competition, the worse the products being sold in the market. The giants can quite literally get away with selling us whatever they want, and we have to shut up because, what are we going to do?

This response to why “people buy it” is far from ideal. It is handy when you need to come up with a reply in a short space of time, but it won’t do to challenge the whole economic system. But it's a start.

* There are a good number of Christian socialists and Islamic socialists who go back to the teachings of either Christ or Muhammad and conclude (shockingly!) that their prophet was all about equality and sticking up for the poor. Similarly with Judaism, though minus the prophet.


Anonymous said...


Just having responded to you on "The F-Word", here I am again. There are some very amusing aspects to blogging, I'm discovering.

Again, love your work. Until the last paragraph. While God is at the centre of my life, I think the religions you named are probably even more destructive than capitalism. And that includes socialism - as I've said somewhere before, if we could get rid of socialism, we could start to build a realistic alternative to capitalism, that might have chance of swaying people.

For example, the Greens in Australia have now got 12% of the vote, and the balance of power in both houses. So they've shown they can connect to people - now they have to gradually design and build a well-thought-through, non-socialist alternative to capitalism. I imagine it will include strong elements of Localism, which is starting to get some pockets of credibility as a counter to Globalisation.

But the vision has to be realistic and viable, and not involve state tyranny or any other tyranny. So its not an easy project.
Michael Biggs

Mary Tracy said...

Michael, you know I'm a socialist, right? At any rate, things are so bad right now that I would happily settle for either christian socialist, greens or vegans dressed as chickens demanding an end to the exploitation of all humans. Really, I'm too desperate to be picky.

And while it may be true that those religions have been destructive, it's also true that their core beliefs have been distorted or forgotten entirely to win over people and manipulate them into accepting an intrinsically corrupt and evil system.

As for realistic and viable... I'm too scared to think about it!

Anonymous said...

Sorry Mary (re socialism), I didn't mean to be offensive.
Michael Biggs

Mary Tracy said...

No need to apologize, I didn't take offense.