The continuum of markets

By Bruce Walker
web posted January 1, 2001

Liberals associate markets with money and associate money with capitalist greed. What we call freedom they call exploitation. Usually the champions of freedom win the intellectual arguments with ease, but not always. Sometimes we lose the debate because we foolishly accept the terms used by liberals.

Marxists, Fascists, Socialists, Nazis, and other liberals use terms like "money", "greed", and "markets" to define terms in ways that make people who cherish freedom look wicked, oafish, and selfish. They portray markets as places where people lie, cheat, and steal for money. Twisting words enough creates knots, which is precisely what the enemies of meaningful words intend. Markets are an excellent example of how this process works.

All of us are familiar with different sorts of economic markets: Job markets, stock markets, oil markets, wheat markets, international markets, housing markets. All are markets, and all are connected. When the job market is bad, then people have less money to invest in the housing market, and the stock market may drop.

These "markets" are plural nouns, when a singular noun "Market" is more accurate. The Market is more than the supply and demand that Adam Smith so eloquently articulated, although all he described was correct. Attempting to limit the Market so that it is only described in terms of dollars and wages is as absurd as trying to describe all human invention in terms of musical notes: It is not so much difficult as remarkably inefficient.

The Market - that vast continuum of human interaction - may be divided for convenience into subdivisions separated by putative lines, but these lines are as artificial as the boundaries that divide nations. So while it helps us to comprehend human interactions by speaking about the "Stock Market" or "Workforce" or "Money Supply", it is vital to accurate analyses to always remember that these subdivisions are actually blurry areas of relative shades.

Markets, of course, transcend physical (geographical) boundaries, and in this way are much more than nations. Markets also transcend every other distinction humans make in describing their interactions. Time, for example, is a vital component of market actions, but markets have roots much older than political or holy documents and markets extend as far as we have power to see, as the very term "Futures Market" helps illustrate.

When people speak of money, what do they mean? Money is simply the means to an end. So, except for those odd characters we call misers, no one loves money, but rather what money can purchase. The acquisition of money is by consent or by force, and its ability to act as a medium of consensual interchange in very defined quantities makes it useful: Money is one of many tools of measurement, but it has no more inherent value than "inches" or "kilograms."

Men typically want money often to "purchase" a wife, a family, status in the community, and similar values. Women, who often profess not to care about money, generally care about it a great deal, but they offer companionship, sex, sociability, children and other values in exchange for money. None of this is mysterious, sinister, or obscure - although civilization is often a mask which treats "crass commercialism" as something of shame. The practical nature of home and family was long accepted as simple truth, and efforts to alienate those factors from other equally valid and important factors like love, respect, fidelity, and tenderness is what Marxism is all about.

But basic animal instincts and needs are only a small part of what human intelligence can seek. Often what people want is not to receive, but to give, or more appropriately, to interact. Couples have children and single people have pets partly for companionship, but also to give something to someone else.

The arena in which people give to others is part of the Market - the vast extension of human interchange. Life, in this sense, is a process of identifying oneself and helping others define themselves. When this occurs through consensual exchange of benefits, then individual receive not only the natural benefits which specialization and maximization of economies produce, but also a place in the order of things.

Ironically, this is most obvious among that group of people who may best be described as "outsiders" - artists, philosophers, mystics, and the like. What do composers want? What do writers seek? To whom do singers sing and prophets prophesied? Audiences! Getting paid for the work is nice, but the very presentation to others is the principal value. Each of us feels something unique about ourselves, and we are each right - in a sense. The level and significance of that uniqueness is determined in the interchange of words, deeds, and expressions.

Consider, for example, three critical figures in national religious identity: Joan of Arc, Rabbi Akiva, and Mohandas Gandhi. The first was burned at the stake for France and God; the second was flayed alive rather than deny Torah to the Romans; the latter lived a life of ascetic sacrifice leading ultimately to assassination for his spiritual image of India.

Few Nazis, Marxists, or other liberals would impute crass commercialism and class exploitation to any of these three people, yet the Saint, the Rabbi, and the Great Soul each was very much a player in the market of human thoughts and emotions. Not only did these people do what they thought important, but they worked very hard at it indeed! Were they right? Yes, to the extent that they gave to the world what they believed that they had to give.

Each of those three moral leaders offered something that Mozart, Michelangelo, and Milton would have understood as well: Immortality, or as much as men can seek in the limits of our lives. Artistic achievement - what Beethoven was trying to "say" in the last movement to his Ninth Symphony - lasts as long as media of expression exist or the memories of men can hold melody and harmony.

The virtue of the Market is precisely that it encompasses all human interactions with other humans, with other creatures, with nature, and with the transcendent. What is truth? What is beauty? The Market, which exists whether we wish it or not, defines those values. The fair price of wheat is defined as truly by market forces as the elegance of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle or the harmonies of Pacabel's Canon.

When liberated - and the term "liberated" means liberated from violence and threats - then the Market allows charity, compassion, thought, imagination, love, and piety to all expand to the limits of human potential. When the Market is treated like a wicked tool of faceless manipulators, then every dimension of human joy and awareness are degraded. ESR

Bruce Walker is a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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