Sunday, September 10, 2006

Strike the Root: Decentralism vs. Rational Markets

I found a good article by Carlton Hobbs at Strike the Root called Decentralism vs. Rational Markets, which addresses the nature of markets and formalizes some ideas I expressed earlier when I said "If you don't like the market, leave it!

If you get around Hobbs' academic references to libertarian moral and economic theory, you'll find some good criticisms of market fetishism. Among them are...

...a free market advocate should not just put faith in the free market and just float unthinkingly down the river of the spontaneously ordered market.Entrepreneurs do not “just put faith in the market.” They actively seek out real imperfections in the current market. Notice that it is a bit contradictory to praise the entrepreneur and then attack someone just for claiming to see a market failure. To quote Warren Buffett, “I'd be a bum on the street with a tin cup if the markets were always efficient.”
Libertarian judicial theory is mainly concerned with the voluntaryness of an exchange, but it is not the end of human action. Individuals can make foolish market decisions. When millions of people all make foolish decisions on the market, it doesn’t make the total less foolish.
Hobbs also explains how and why we may consciously structure our market interactions, the idea of which seems anathema to the "free-market fetish" crowd, who take for granted that whatever happens in the market is inherently good.
Lenin wrote that capitalists would sell him the rope to hang them with, and he was too often right.... Market advocates have failed to account for the long term disvalue of treating friendly customers equally to customers who are hostile to the market.
He examines how our market decisions put us at risk for exploitation:
All else equal, a free market society should seek to minimize extended supply chains, especially to those dependent on markets controlled by hostile entities. If one system of production is more centralized or extended, it is more vulnerable to risk exploitation. Decentralism enhances security and decreases risk. Risk is a component that governments have massive power to manipulate both from inside (through buying and selling agents) and outside the market.
Finally, he suggests that small producers and co-ops are natrual allies of libertarians, whereas large heirarchical coporations are natural enemies. There's more to the article, but I can't do it justice here.

(tip to Kevin Carson)

1 comment:

quasibill said...

Re: the increased risks in centralization -

It seems to me that centralization was not a likely outcome of free (or more nearly free) markets. It may work that way for a while now, as our culture is the product of our upbringing, but when you look back 100+ years, there was a very strong streak of provincialism. You didn't trust outsiders much, if at all. And this makes sense in free markets - you can't gauge your risk with strangers, while you can with people you know. You also have social factors that come into play with people who are in a given community (the least of which might be public embarassment).

This provincialism has been distorted by the state in one way, and demonized in another. First, states have capitalized on provincialism by promoting nationalism. This disconnects provincialism from its foundations, weakening it in some aspects, while strengthening some of its deleterious aspects. Furthermore, states (especially the U.S.) have successfully linked provincialism to racism, such that provincial "red-necks" are commonly associated with racist attitudes.

So I don't see centralization as a natural outcome of freer markets - centralization is a creature born and raised by centralist states. Unfortunately, some of the cultural bulwarks supporting de-centralization have been removed, so a free market instituted immediately might, in the short term, result in increased centralization.