From Consumer Activism

Free-Market Faith

free market faith bart

It is one thing to believe capitalism is the best game in town and another to believe capitalism is crap, but still the best game in town. I find myself in the latter’s dugout, finding reasons to play when many misunderstand the rules. But I will now attempt to bat with this post and hope to load at least one base.

Understanding the basic tenets of capitalism is really quite simple, until you pin the origins of its canons. For just one example, people may believe Adam Smith is the father of capitalism, but may be surprised to learn Smith never heard of it. The word “capitalism” or “capitalist,” does not appear once in Smith’s book The Wealth of Nations (1776). Instead, the word “capitalism” actually appears in the later half on the 19th Century and many attribute Karl Marx in coining the term. Therefore, Smith did not create an economic system inasmuch as he identified existing and efficient economic relationships and expounded those relationships….get this…for the benefit of mankind.

Just as surprising, Adam Smith writes about the short-comings of these relationships. Although he mentions the Invisible Hand, which is only briefly mentioned in his canonized and dogmatized Wealth of Nations, is a factor in how human society organizes its economics. Smith wrote an earlier book called The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), which talks about balancing the idea of self-interest with higher moral considerations, most pronounced is the idea of community and importance of sympathy. I doubt Adam Smith and Ayn Rand would have all that in common.

When people talk about the free-market, what they are really talking about are aspects of the market they benefit from and not an entire systemic set of principles that benefits everybody. It’s why commerce is not charity. The term free-market, which also does not show up in The Wealth of Nations, is a non-sensical term because markets are never free. But it’s a great marketing ploy to brand markets as a place for freedom. A place that government, which is one of the few great powers that can restrict corporate power, should keep it’s filthy dirty hands off. Ironic when government is by default the scoundrel but corporations and banks the scamp. It’s not to say governments can’t be a major problem in our economic affairs, they often are. But listen to narratives demanding unrestrained greed and you just might see that using bad governments is a hidden ball trick.

Of course market regulations can be stupid. But think about how free-marketeers talk about how unjust the government is to them and not who loses to their quest for profit. Free-market talk is a ploy to get people who don’t profit to back people who do, even at their own expense.

The Potential of John Gerzema’s “The Post-Crisis Consumer”

I recollect consumer responsibility a notion existing before the Great Recession and my impression of it being a left-leaning, albeit fringe, endeavor. Granted much of my adult life centered in urban jungles and not rural pastures, my impression might be a matter of circumstance. Nevertheless, John Gerzema, a veteran advertiser, has much to say about consumer responsibility, not only in its seemingly co-optation by middle America but by the positive response from a good part of corporate America. Anyone who has taken —or still takes— consumer responsibility to heart has in the link below some good news. If your thinking that this Ted Talk is another Ted Talk bore, Gerzema stands out as an entertaining orator with a few neat facts. Enjoy!

He has guided the brand strategies of McDonald's, BMW, Coca-Cola, United Airlines, and Holiday Inn, just to name a few.