Friday, March 18, 2005

Market evil

There's a seductive simplicity to the logic thatthe market aggregates public opinion and allows it to be expressed, that each "dollar-vote" signifies assent for a particular good on the market, and for the capitalist system in general. But markets exist to separate profitable from unprofitable businesses and it cares about nothing else. It can't "care" at all. It's regulated by heartless mathematics, not the will of the people. What makes for profits is not simply winning the hearts and minds of all the John Q. Consumers out there, but ruthless competition, driving your competitors off the playing field with whatever leverage you can muster. Sometimes this leverage is in the form of popular products or recognizable brand names, sometimes it is in the form of having this much less ethical restraint than your competitors. Economies of scale reduce the field of options and force consumers into choices of the lesser evil. This cannot be considered to be the voice of assent.

The point is corporations by their nature have no choice but to pursue profit, regardless of what people want or what people are harmed by it. If it is profitable to make lead paint, no amount of brain-damaged babies would stop a corporation from doing it. I'm no theologian, but I learned one thing about Christianity in a Milton class that's stuck with me, and that's evil is always predictable, evil is incapable of doing something disinterested. What differentiates the Son from Satan is that he is able to make a purely unmotivated sacrifice.

The market assumes we are all Satan's capable of only self-interested actions and incapable of inexplicable sacrifice or true charity, that we are all essentially evil to the core. (Call it the taint of original sin?) The competitiveness inherent to it assumes an all-out Hobbesean war of all against all, as real cooperation has no market value and thus doesn't really exist from the market-legitimizes-everything point of view. Of course this is the winner-take-all, social-safety-net-free world Republicans, in their pious hypocrisy, like to imagine.

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