Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Market Society (part 1?)

It is always nice when one's reading material coincides with one's conversations. As mentioned previously here, I've found a philosopher who particularly resonates with me: John Gray. His material is rather pessimistically written, making it tough-reading but incisive enough to keep you drawn in.

I started his book False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism, two weeks ago but I put it aside as I munched my way through two other books. I'm back into it now and loving it. Personally, I've always held rather economically liberal views in tandem with my libertarianism. The book is a nice challenge to these views; in fact, it is perfect reading just before a general election to have a book that goes against my base assumptions and creates a critical lens with which to interpret policy announcements.

I'm only 30 pages into 240, but have already felt compelled to write. To summarise his thesis so far, since the 1980s both the UK and NZ have been subject to rather extreme neo-liberal policies, privatising state assets, individual contracts, open markets and policies that are not directed at full employment but rather at economic efficiency. These policies create a society that serves the market (a market society) rather than a market that serves society's interests. The obvious signs of that are the transformations of small town New Zealand, student debt levels and social dislocation.

It stretches this to assert that these have resulted in social phenomena, such as high crime and imprisonment rates, higher divorce and solo-parentage rates and the weakening of the family (these have risen greatly since the institution of such policies). Moving with the market, people move to where work is and put a lot more emphasis on their career than family or relationships. I'd add that a market society works well with individualism and very well with materialism.

Putting aside the obvious fact that New Zealanders have always been going on OEs (I can argue that in the past there were other reasons for doing so), there has been a huge movement in people overseas for professional reasons, delaying laying roots in a community and perhaps building a stable family. On a small sample, Generation-Yers seem to be the full realisation of that mindset. From discussions recently, I know lots of people who have got the travel bug and 'need' to work elsewhere, or feel they'll have to move on soon. There is nothing wrong with travel and working abroad per se, but I'd say that there is perhaps an excessive desire in many people for both, well beyond its utility and benefit in the long-term.

My conversation hinged on just this point; that the desire to be travelling and working abroad is often harmful for not only the relationship or family but also for the welfare of nearly all involved; that the constant individualistic consideration over that of your relationship or over your family could be detrimental when everything is added up. The lack of an ability to compromise on individual goals, to delay gratification for the better of the whole is a pretty critical impediment long-term happiness.

These are just working thoughts though. Hopefully more ideas will come through while reading.

1 comment:

Crypticity said...

The last half of the book was a rather convincing argument against an American style society.

The general flow was: The State reduces social institutions, weaken the communities in order to advance economic efficiency. The policy of easy hiring/firing and surpressed wages has caused there to be a lack of a stable career for the majority. This stresses the families.

The weakening of the social institutions reduces order, so the police force has to be bolstered and the correction system is expanded. A pertinent point was that despite the American unemployment rate being low (in the recent past), it is blurred by the high imprisonment rate. The same is true for NZ.

The lack of a safety net, means that the general anxiety pervades most workers. The author does stress the huge risk of a downturn in the US. If there are no social institutions or systems to cope with economic stress (apart from law enforement), the society could become rather anarchic. This observation will probably be tested regrettably.

And it returns to the horrid phenomenon in the US too: Despite the economic boom, poverty is as bad as in much poorer countries and has not improved. Can an economic structure that even in the good times is unable to lift those out of poverty?

The paradox is that economic efficiency continues to be the force that reforms all other countries. To compete effectively, countries have reformed towards the American structure: Taxes are lowered; import protection is lifted; employment rights are weakened; and free trade is pursued.

It has been a good medicine for a liberal like myself. I'll probably need to let it brew more. In the meantime, I'll make my votes go against economic liberalism, and look through the lens of policies that enhance society rather than those that enhance economy at social costs.