The Market as a Tool
by Marc Batko
Alan Greenspan, the 78-year old head of the Federal Reserve, has “served” 5 presidents and is acclaimed as “hard-working”. Recently he gained headlines warning that social security and medicare are in fiscal trouble. People must expect to work to age 70, he implied.
If social security raised the income cap, financial problems would disappear. Presently no social security tax falls on incomes over $86,000.
Are solutions repressed? Does the state have a social nature or is the state only a security- and power state?
Mainstream consciousness accepts the uncontrolled market economy as total, absolute and without alternative. According to Adam Smith’s theory of the invisible hand, the unrestrained market brings optimal production and distribution. Everyone pursuing self-interest is said to bring the common good. In reality, basic rights become privileges when the market is not balanced and tamed by the populace. Water, land, education, health care and electricity become privatized and unaffordable for the large majority. In truth, the neoliberal myths bear bitter fruit. Self-interest is legitimated and the common good narrowed or distorted to system support.
The market is a tool that is effective after fundamental political questions are answered: What kind of society do we want? How can we protect people from comodification or idolatry? Should the economy serve people or should people serve the economy? Should society strive for egalitarianism or the survival of the short-sighted? The market that efficiently optimizes production can blindly destroy its own foundation (nature) and unconsciously privilege those with better starting conditions. The social market economy, the basis of the German social system, embeds the market in a larger system and vests persons and communities with rights of social protection.
The messianic vision has always been powerful in mobilizing people for a better life. The vision where the wolf and lamb eat grass together, where a child leads them, where everyone is safe under his or her fig tree and no nation knows war any more can help us make the “quantim leap” from the greed model to the justice model.
In Germany, social democracy is atrophying as the equality theme is replaced by equal opportunities. The unemployed are blamed for unemployment. While only one job exists for seven jobless, prime minister Gerhard Schroeder echoes the reactionary evasions of Helmut Kohl. “There is no right to laziness”, Schroeder repeats.
Corporate tax evasion has caused state deficits. Corporations play off communities and states and receive subsidies and tax write-offs. In Germany, corporations receive subsidies while relocating to Poland and Malaysia to profit from lower wages. In the US, CEOs receive 418 times the salary of their lowest employees in 2003. In 1960, the relation was 40 to 1.
The truth that increased purchasing power creates full employment is hardly heard amid the neoliberal trickle-down mythology. Corporations stylize themselves as natural laws or as suffering servants. Sins of the market do not exist, only sins against the market. That corporations have responsibilities as well as rights seems blocked in mainstream and elite consciousness.
The social risks of old age, unemployment and sickness cannot be simply renamed personal responsibilities. If this happens, social polarization and helplessness result. While few profit from the increased productivity, millions must choose between food, housing and health care.
The draft of the European Union constitution contains a new right, entrepreneurial freedom, that trumps other rights (cf. “The God of the EU Constitution” by Ulrich Duchrow on www.portland.indymedia.org). How can the corporation be brought under the rule of law? How can the “personhood” of the corporation be removed? How can states and communities free themselves from being hostages to “deadbeat” corporations?
Here are some starting points for a social and future-friendly market economy.
1) Creating a social net is the precondition for sharing working hours. A future of sharing and solidarity requires sharing work time, lifelong learning and treasuring disposable time.
2) Domination by capital and neoliberal logic can distort education to apprenticeship and conformity.
3) Social polarization and division of society occur when government only enforces the interests of the rich.
4) Mending our own pockets, confronting hemorrhages (military obsolescence, corporate enrichment, corporate tax evasion) and discovering the stories in ourselves are revolutionary.
5) Cooperation and competition can coexist. Cooperation, not violence, is an anthropological constant (cf. Gottfried Orth, “Cooperation, not Violence” on www.mbtranslations.com).
6) Public goods must remain public. The community or the commons has a sovereignty over water, land, electricity, health care, housing and education. If they are privatized, basic human rights become privileges. Human life is then sacrificed on the altar of the total absolute market. Long-term necessities are sacrificed to short-term constraints.
7) The state has a social nature and isn’t only a power and security state. We face the distortion and rewriting of history and obstruction of free flow of information. The empire wants to destroy memory along with imagination, vision and personal development.
8) Nature like children has rights in itself and is the foundation of future life. Neoliberalism reduces nature to a sink, an external or a free good.
Let there be peace and let it begin with us. By involving and not distracting one another, we become people of hope. In discovering the stories in ourselves, in focusing on the free person rather than the free market, we make absurd the “endless” stories of office buildings. Our growth in vision, imagination and wisdom could be unlimited; the growth in material things is limited and frustrating. Our story of interdependence and liberation must not be drowned out by Toyoto time or Labor Day sales.