The Coastal Post - August, 1997

Inhuman Markets & Crass Society


The market was one of the earliest forms of human interaction and played a major part in the process of social evolution. It was where people met, traded, and later bought and sold. Originally, producers of goods and services were there at the market, trading those things and more, and in the process playing a role in the creation of organizations in keeping with ever-growing societies.

This human-based market predates capitalism by many centuries, so any equation of the two should be understood as mythology. Markets in their original form were democratic and social institutions, with no added power given to the possessor of great wealth. Capitalism has always been anti-democratic and anti-social, affording power on the basis of dollars, not people.

Humans trading goods and services relates to capitalism the way people having sex relates to venereal disease. One can lead to the other, but they are by no means guaranteed outcomes to one another. And while capitalism has beneficial aspects and venereal disease has none, the comparison might be kinder to economics. A person can survive venereal disease, but millions of people haven't a chance of survival under the rules of monopoly capitalism. In fact, if it is allowed to continue on its present path, life itself may not continue very far into the future.

How we got from the personal interactions of the local marketplace to the social alienation of the global mall is a subject for longer study, but despite proclamations of the victory of capital, we are closer to the loss of society and nature. The steady breakdown of ecological systems is a matter of fact, though corporate fiction forecasts expanding wealth and progress if we maintain the status quo. That means further dominance of capital over the market, and the end of any form of humane, democratic society.

Some critics of corporate capital may romanticize the market, and Adam Smith's pre-Marxian analysis of free marketing may have left out quite a bit. Nevertheless, those who cry out against the almighty power of big government and big business are not all romantic fools. The desire for a more human community and more natural environment, whether it comes from the right or the left, is a desire for change of a failing but poorly understood system.

Seekers of a return to what are called family values are not all political hustlers or fundamentalist fanatics. Critics of expanding government are not all market puritans or libertarian zealots. A growing number of diverse voices are raised against the status quo, but they create confusion rather than action to bring about the more humane reality that most people want. The lack of understanding of markets, capitalism and corporations ensures some of the divisions that are played upon by defenders of that status quo.

While capital has always been international, its current pattern is to pursue profit by breaking down national barriers at an ever faster rate. Economic differences among language, ethnic and racial groups are used to politically weaken national populations, while international capital is more united and stronger than it has ever been.

This makes it possible for foreign finance to invest in the American government, while Americans are organized to distrust foreign workers who come here to get jobs. Foreign workers are economically no different than tourists, in that they bring money and growth wherever they go. But they don't bring it equally; it is investors who profit, while workers foot whatever social bills pile up for tourism or immigrant costs. Thus, a minority has its cake and eats it, and a majority picks up the tab.

People who should strive for democratic control that puts human interest before money are instead participating in a global bazaar of the bizarre, with ever increasing consumer debt and further alienation from themselves and their communities.

This process is moving at a speed that keeps pace with the destruction of much of the natural environment. The inhuman market under the domination of international capital has created the most gross product in its history. Global Wall Street's boom is cheered by large investors and their media and political hired hands, but it threatens to become Global Main Street's most calamitous bust. Individual buying and selling at a market can be marvelous, provided there is social equity enabling all to demand a supply of the basic necessities. But when some buy mansions while others live in the street, and some animals are overfed while people starve, markets are seriously flawed. Such contradictions have always existed, but they grow more

dangerous, given the speed with which they occur and the numbers they affect.

The origin of our truly Crass Society may have been in the 19th century, as wealth was gained by early industrialists at the price of appalling poverty for their employees in the mills and mines. More recently that poverty was farmed out to the third world, but in the present neoliberal return to 19th century economic values, it is back in the developed world, and with a vengeance.

Our smog-choked, cancerous environment of autos, weapons and slums is profit-making for the forces of inhuman marketing, but it represents massive loss for those forced to consume its waste. It is not individuals, but an economic system that is at fault. Its crass inhumanity must be confronted, if we would preserve the social and natural environments needed for the survival of the one human race to which we all belong.