You can get my new book, The Surprising Design of Market Economies, at your local bookstore or from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play etc. In it, I describe the ways that government builds our economy and culture, and argue that these deep structures should be a more explicit part of our public, political conversations. You can read Op-Eds I have written that draw upon the book in The New York Times [How To Get Business To Pay Its Fair Share], and two from Bloomberg View [Capitalism & Government Are Friends and Health Care Will Become a Right, Just Like Water].
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I sit here typing, and on my body I have some nice wool pants with a hounds-tooth pattern, a charcoal gray sports jacket, and in my pockets various possessions, including my ever present Iphone, that I would prefer to keep. If someone challenged me on whether I “owned” these things, I would be hard pressed to prove it. I did not keep the receipts. Luckily, that is unlikely to happen.
As David Carr said so well in this essay a few weeks ago, television is now the opposite of a wasteland. It is instead a lovely Olmstedian park, filled with glorious wonders, shady reclines and scary but usually not too harmful caves and dark forests. It is a Golden Age, basically, for television.
In exploring this Golden Age, Carr and others usually focus on a few shows that are almost invariably “edgy.” They include the late, great The Wire, of which I am a bigger fan than anyone I wager, to lesser but still artfully done shows like Homeland, Justified, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and so on.
Okay, here’s number eight in my ongoing series, Nine Reasons Why The Free Market is a False Concept. Reason number eight is Water, and all it represents, which includes public works or infrastructure. If you keep reading, you’ll hear me say what it means to “define infrastructure upwards.”
Imagine yourself in New York City in 1835, the largest and most prosperous city in the country. But if you want a drink of water, you buy it, if you are rich, from a “tea man,” who fills your container from a barrel of water he ports around on the street. You probably don’t risk using a decrepit private water system of hollow logs under the streets. Most people use one of the few public wells, which are polluted, or draw water directly from a dirty stream or pond. There are no sewers, so when you use the toilet, your waste goes into the ground where it blends with the water you will later drink. Devastating epidemics happen every few years.
From my ongoing series.
Having hundred or thousands of uniformed men (mostly men), ready to stamp out crime or unruly behavior, makes it easy not to know or remember that this is a relatively recent thing. London, under minister Robert Peele, invented the first professional metropolitan police force in the 1820s. These men became known as “Bobbies,” a reference to the first name of their creator. New York City followed suit in the 1840s and 1850s, but not without debate. Badged, uniformed men walking among the citizens were seen as a thread to its status as a citizen’s republic, and at least once the police force was created and then disbanded. During one incarnation the men wore only badges, not uniform. Read more in Chapter 15, Police and Prisons, in my book The Surprising Design of Market Economies.
War is the original sin of markets. Because a political state is necessary for markets, and political states form themselves through war. At least I have great trouble thinking of one that didn’t. Norway may be an exception. It peacefully split off from Sweden at the beginning of the last century.
War, or said more politely Defense, is one of the nine reasons the Free Market is a false concept because it’s hard to buy and sell when the Huns or the Canadians are riding horses or tanks through your living room. More importantly, even if a free market existed, it would do a lousy job providing security. There is a market failure there. We enjoy security collectively. If we decided that everyone would be responsible for their own security, we would have a Hobbesian state of nature, not the ability to walk down the street without worrying about getting whacked.
We continue here, in my ongoing series, Nine Reasons Why The Free Market is a False Concept. I’m adding one reason a day. Here goes Reason Number Five.
In the Middle Ages, it was common when disputes arose or allegations of criminal offenses to do something called “The Ordeal.” Most were variations on this kind of thing: you grasped a red hot stone for a required length of time. Then if you were able to do that, your burned hand was bandaged up. In three days, it was unwrapped. If the wound was infected, you were guilty. If not, you were innocent or telling the truth.
Such was the law. But centuries passed, and the law progressed. Sort of.
In honor of the great story this morning by Shaila Dewan in the New York Times, I’m pushing up in my order of attention an institution that Shaila focuses on and is a another reason the Free Market is a false concept: Cooperatives.
Cooperatives show the free market is a false concept because co-operatives are wonderful ways to organize an economy, or as part of an economy, yet they are nowhere in the standard free-market models of economics. Yet there is nothing fascistic or communistic about co-operatives; they are simply one of the many institutions or market structures an economy can include. Co-ops are an example of successful experimentation with market institutions, one that produces fairer and more stable returns. It’s an example of the type of experimentation we should always be doing with markets and economies. How can we make institutions and markets that produce better, fairer results?
This is such a big topic that I may devote some other space here in the blog – or you can read the book, The Surprising Design of Market Economies! But here goes. And this is the third in the ongoing series, One a Day: Nine Reasons the Free Market is a False Concept.
Question: what does Apple corporation and the City of London have in common? Or Time-Warner and New York City? Answer: they are all corporations, created by government. Among their differences is that the City of London and the City of New York are centuries old, while Apple and Time Warner are of more recent vintage.
Can you imagine a modern, market economy without public education for all? I can’t. We can quibble about whether we should have charters, traditional city-run, federal support or not, or even vouchers or not, but no one I know is arguing to withdraw the right to have an education at public expense, and to withdraw the requirement that children to be educated. As with my reason number one (Roads: i.e. transportation), schooling has become a basic mission of government, as American as apple pie. We argue about how we do it, not whether.
In a blatant attempt to generate buzz for my latest book, The Surprising Design of Market Economies, just out in paperback, I’m going to do a numbered list, the kind that BuzzFeed excels at. I’m going to describe nine reasons why the free market is a false concept. And to further the suspense, I’m going to do one new reason every few days, until I have nine.
Nine is an arbitrary number. Could do 11, or 14 or 27. But nine allows me to hit the high points.