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Date: Sat, 21 Aug 1999 01:32:30 -0500 (CDT)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: TWN: The Market: Substitute for Democracy
Article: 73388
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.7445.19990821121701@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** twn.features: 306.0 **/
** Topic: The Market: Substitute for Democracy **
** Written 3:57 PM Aug 19, 1999 by twnet@po.jaring.my in cdp:twn.features **

The market: substitute for democracy

By Jeremy Seabrook, Third World Network Features, August 1999

The market economy and democracy are inseparable. These quite distinct phenomena are now presented by all Western governments as though they were more or less interchangeable. This marks yet another stage in the onward march of the market, a triumphal progress that has scarcely been halted by the accession to power of Centre-Left governments in most European countries.

There are superficial resemblances between them; but how have the free market and democracy come to be seen as identical twins in Western rhetoric? How is it that the financial institutions routinely conflate market reforms with good governance, as conditions for lending to Third World countries?

Of course, what the people want is the supreme slogan of the age. This is the very essence of democracy. It is also encoded within the responsiveness of the market, which is felt to offer a continuous and organic plebiscite on the needs and desires of the people. This readily lends itself to the suggestion that the market, as supreme expression of the popular will, is the most active element in the attainment of full democracy. This is how the perfect marriage was made. You can’t have one without the other, has been the sage sermon on the mount of Western preachings to the world.

What can be wrong with so ingenuous a formulation? The market, after all, responds directly to need, by-passing the cumbersome apparatus of the State. No more elegant instrument for matching need with its satisfaction can be imagined. Who can object to the innocent proposition that the market economy and democracy supplement each other, indeed, are indispensable to one another, merge imperceptibly as features in a common landscape?

The market is an impersonal mechanism for bringing together producers and consumers, while democracy is supposed to embody the will of the majority. Now it is common sense that majorities—in every country of the world—are not privileged elites; and it will be inevitable that fairness, social justice and equality are bound to be the choice of the majority in all true democracies.

This is where the market is so useful. It prioritises the whims of the rich over the most elementary necessities of the poor. It provides Coca-Cola to the most impoverished communities in the world, which do not enjoy the benefit of safe drinking water. Only those with purchasing power register their wants in the capacious plenty of the market. The market cannot monitor the needs of those without money, which is why so many human beings perish each day within sight of global abundance. In this sense, the market is deaf and blind; responds only with the sensory equipment that can detect money.

The need of the market to expand and grow in perpetuity makes it a powerful and dynamic force in the world. Indeed, its perpetual expansion leads it to colonise society, and its energetic compulsions become more powerful even than the sacred rules of democracy itself.

The dynamism and power of the market are infinitely more vibrant, exciting and responsive than a democracy that has become ossified in electoral ritual. The laws of economics are readily perceived to be more compelling than the laws of democracy, which is why people—all people, including the poor—regularly vote for parties who insist they will make the economy function better, rather than lift them out of poverty. This is also why in the advanced democracies, political disaffection is growing; voting doesn’t pay the rent.

There are, of course, other objections to the sanctification of the market. Because there are many fundamental needs—even among the most privileged—that simply cannot be answered by the market, these fall into oblivion.

Everything needful which cannot be bought and sold is reshaped by the market, until some marketed commodity or service apparently approximates to it: for instance, the need for community may be created artificially, by the creation of TV soap operas, which scoop up people’s emotions in imaginary communities of fantasy involvement; or a sense of belonging is promoted by some media-led witch-hunt against a deviant group or individual, whether against extremists, political outcasts like Saddam or Milosevic or paedophiles.

Then the market itself undermines certain human needs. The need to procure and provide for ourselves, to give, create and invent, to do things for ourselves and each other—all this is subverted by the market, since such profound needs cannot be expressed through its crude calculus.

In spite of all this, democracy continues to be assimilated to the market. The secret of this union, of course, is that the dowry brought to democracy by the market is the immense advantages it brings to those who have the most.

Indeed, in the early industrial era in Britain, this was obvious: it was the very shortcomings of free markets—especially the labour market—that led to the development of the workers’ movements, and finally forced the State to set up forms of protection against its most violent ravages. Only as the rich Western societies have become richer has the market been rehabilitated, revarnished, spruced up and touted now as the inseparable companion of a democracy which no longer threatens its hegemony.

This is why the market is the objective of such remorseless Western propaganda in the world. Good governance, freedom, choice—all these are smuggled routinely into the promotion of free markets; even in the face of the burden of human misery, exclusion and social wreckage with which they disfigure the face of the earth.

The point is that market equals democracy is only the latest conspiracy of the rich against the poor.

The market as ultimate freedom: in the presence of so many captives, so much crying need, so much needless suffering! Only by excluding everything and everyone that does not reach the market can this disfiguring of human purposes be projected as the finest ornament of civilisation.

In the past two or three years, with the economic disasters in Asia, Russia and Brazil, it might have been expected that the image of the global market might have been tarnished. Not a bit of it.

The imagery of the financial press is telling: the West created a firebreak against the spread of recession; the contagion was contained. The IMF bail-out and rescue-packages prevented the effects of the downturn lapping at the shores of the USA. Nothing demonstrates more clearly the real purposes of the global economy—to conserve the wealth of the rich, to protect privilege, to maintain the advantages of the G-7 over the rest of the world.

Beneath the effort to universalise and remoralise the market, there is a profound anti-democratic intention. The endeavour to establish the sign of the market as a kind of universal extra-zodiacal determinant upon the lives of the people of the whole world, actually sequesters privilege from any threats that might come from the poor and hungry: these are now securely locked into the carceral slums of Asia and South America, penned into plantations, exiled to the most marginal lands, evicted from self-reliance and subsistence and sent to eke out an existence in a geographical limbo on the edge of survival.

Globalisation, which establishes the rule of the market, is both vehicle and newest incarnation of an imperialism which has gone underground, which has taken up its abode in more subtle instruments of domination than military occupation, plunder and forcible dispossession of the peoples of the world.

The people of the West have readily forgotten that it was the iron rule of the market which once forced them to work in such dangerous and damaging occupations that in the 1820s life expectancy in Manchester was only 17 years. It was the market that compelled women and children to work as beasts of draught underground. It was the market that diminished human beings into mere operatives, saw them dwindle into mere hands for hire, servants of machinofacture.

Of course, in the early industrial period in Britain, the ruling classes were terrified of democracy. If the franchise had been extended to a majority of the people, they would have voted away privilege and inequality, and the laissez-faire ideology which underpinned them.

The strategy to avoid this catastrophe was twofold. First of all, the vote was granted only very slowly to the dispossessed; this gave time for the wealth of the country to encompass a sufficient proportion of the people to ensure that when the vote was conceded to them, they could be trusted not to cast their vote in favour of the dispossession of their betters, on whose wealth their own modest well-being depended. The role of the riches of empire in conciliating a threatening and unpredictable proletariat to the reason of its rulers is also well-known.

It is the extension of this doctrine to the whole world that is now at issue. Democracy can scarcely be withheld from the peoples of the earth; but the apotheosis of the market is calculated to guarantee its pre-eminence. Only when the free market has been safeguarded can considerations of democracy and other subordinate freedoms be entertained.

This is the root of the new world order, about which so much has been written: it effectively makes the rich richer, it guarantees the perpetuation of privilege, it maintains the priority of the caprice of those with money over the very survival of those without it. And that is the main thing.