A Crisis of Vision February 2003
knowing, ever-present force for human liberation that borders on a secular religious fervor. Their faith blindsthem to the very real problems with the market, whileabsolving them of any responsibility for its results.
When confronted with evidence of the market’s
apparent mistakes, they tend to recite some version of the self-justifying libertarian credo:
If there is a problem,the market will correct it.If the market does not correct it,then it is not really a problem.
In other words,
the market solves its own problems
.Everything else is commentary.
But this is not the only renaissance that began totake shape at the close of the last century. In what looks like a revival of a movement we first saw towardthe end of the 19
century, a multi-faceted counter-revolution has emerged worldwide and coalescedaround a critique of the very economic philosophycredited with producing the booming Americaneconomy. An unlikely coalition of activists andintellectuals
from labor unionists and environ-mentalists to journalists and economists
has begun tovoice a common concern over a very different economic story.
As they see it, the closing decades of the 20
century were less a vindication and more anindictment of the market. Financial markets, onceconsidered the servants of free enterprise, revealedthemselves to be the masters of that enterprise,allocating technological, human, and natural capitalaccording to the speculative imperatives of globalfinancial capital. Politicians, once considered theservants of a democratic populace, graduallysubordinated themselves to these same speculativeimperatives, deregulating markets, subsidizingcorporations, and bailing out the wealthy losers in onefinancial disaster after the next. While domesticcorporations outsourced high-wage jobs to low-wageeconomies in order to enhance their profitability, thesesame corporations managed to reduce their incometaxes to a mere fraction of what households werepaying. Thus, despite the apparent strength inemployment, productivity, and growth, most Americans saw their real incomes stagnate, their debt levels swell, and their prospects for retirement undermined by a Social Security fund that defied allcredibility and a stock market bubble that defied all
rationale. As if believing its own “new economy” hype,
the mainstream media failed to acknowledge the harshnew realities of this economy, from the overpaid CEOto the redundant worker to the systematicimpoverishment of society and nature by unregulatedmarket forces.
The diverse authors of this provocative story sharea common adversary in the economic
libertarians asmuch as any particular ideology. While some maintaintheir faith in the contemporary economic philosophyfavoring interventionist governments and managedmarkets, an increasing number seem to be channelingtheir energies into social activism via
, a self-organizing network of non-governmental,non-commercial organizations. Their various criticismsof the market and its institutions are typically framedwithin the overarching themes of
Although they are derided as an “anti
by the libertarian orthodoxy, these increasingly vocalcritics have a decidedly
agenda of their own. In
fact, they’re challenging the seats of economic power
with the same conviction that the libertarians havealways reserved for their assaults on the seats of political power. Lacking a name, I call them the
The more thoughtful members of this economicculture perform a great service to all market participants by raising our awareness of theunfortunate and often unintended consequences of market-based economic development. Beneath thesurface of what may sound like alarmist rhetoric oftenlies a sound assessment of the specific ways in whicheconomic growth is misaligned with genuine economicwelfare. By focusing on difficult issues like wealthinequality, corporate corruption, technologicalredundancy, ecological degradation, currencyspeculation, and all manner of economic injustice,
Many economic egalitariansdisplay a rather pretentiousskepticism about the economy.They insist that market logicsomehow undermines socialvalues and that they should be
allowed to correct the market’s
mistakes, if not throughgovernment intervention thenthrough social activism.