Let the market decide.
Those four words are among the most revolutionary in the history of humankind.
At first the market might look like a series of signs and indicators on a scoreboard. But behind the numbers and balance sheets lie human values, indicators on the map that people use to navigate their way out of the state of nature.
By the market, we do not mean some depersonalized force floating above and outside of our lives. We really mean the choices of people over their own lives. The market is whatever you and I choose, and what others do to serve our every wish within the context of freedom and human rights.
To let the market decide means deferring to the results even if we personally wish something else would happen. It means recognizing that letting the market prevail will give us more peace and prosperity than any other system that involves imposing on the lives and property of others. We don’t have to love every result, but we recognize that over the long run, and for the most people, the market grants greater access to the best possible life we can experience on this earth.
Down with Strongmen
The results defy every predictive mind, and remind us constantly of the absence of omniscience in this world. Those four words, then, represent a repudiation of dictatorship, authoritarianism, despotism, and every form of imposition against the people and their wishes. They suggest a confidence in a process shaped by people and their decisions are a better guide than even the smartest people armed with all the powers of the state. They suggest a deference to something outside our direct control but within the micro-control of everyone else: not just people we know but billions of people we do not know.
The results of the market feed no one’s vision of utopia. But that’s just the point. No one particular person gets to realize some fevered view of what should be, because we know that the realization of one person’s utopia is most likely to lead to a nightmare for everyone else. If we establish a minimum set of general rules – don’t steal, don’t use violence, do unto others as you would have them do unto you – you create a political culture that allows maximum opportunity for everyone to flourish and realize their dreams.
But Is It Wrong?
There is a persistent criticism out there that somehow this market is devoid of sentiment, virtue, and even morality. This is not true, and you only need to look at the holiday season to see it. The holiest of seasons also happens to be associated with the height of commercial exchange. This is not an accident. Commerce means people giving to others and receiving more in return. It means serving each other in peace and with love.
If that’s true, it would make sense that holy seasons of gift-giving would enliven the market like nothing else. But there is a catch: the results of the market are unscripted. No one can anticipate what wins and what loses. They defy every predictive mind, and remind us constantly of the absence of omniscience in this world.
And if you love freedom, and are willing to live with the reality of the unknowability of the future, this is a beautiful thing. You can say “oh, this is brilliant” or “this is truly tacky” or “I find this top-selling good to be ridiculous,” but you recognize that it is for the best that consumers have their way and that producers are able to exercise freedom and creativity in the service of the masses of people.
You don’t have to love the results of the market to marvel in the discovery of a system that allows people to have their way over the crucial decisions of how society uses its productive resources while creating ever more wealth, from which everyone benefits.
And So, What Won?
It’s absolutely exhilarating to watch the market in action, especially when you take the long view, such as going back to 1983. At first it seems crazy and random. Why did anyone care about “Cabbage Patch Kids” or “Barney” the dinosaur or “Tickle Me Elmo?” It’s all so silly, right? Maybe not. All these products fed the human imagination and enticed people to imagine worlds that could be. They are symbols of the wackiest, most wonderful, most unpredictable aspects of the human personality.
None would have been chosen by any would-be central planner, whether on the campaign trail or from the office of some empowered bureaucracy. They could have only emanated from this beautiful, imaginative, productive, and empowering sector we call the market. For all its mysteries and surprises, we can’t help but be inspired at its capacity to discover values within us that no intellectual planner, dictator, or know-it-all bureaucrat could ever know.
You can resent it and decry it. Or you can see within it the marvelous revelation of the human personality.But think about it: the market embodies an amazing authenticity. The results tell the unvarnished truth about two things: what is economically viable within the framework of existing resource availability and technology, as well as our most-valued dreams as human beings. Notice that the results utilize the division of labor in every conceivable way, regardless of class, race, sex, language, and nation. It does not confine itself to “identity” the way politics is structured these days.
Perhaps this is why so many intellectuals despise the market. It reveals truths they cannot access, no matter how brilliant, credentialled, or studied they might be. The market cuts through every conceit, every preconceived notion of what should be, and presents reality as it is. You can resent it and decry it. Or you can see within it the marvelous revelation of the human personality as it looks when people behave as if they have rights and freedom.
I would prefer the latter. I’m sure you do too. As you look at the list below, if this doesn’t make you smile, or even cheer the beauties of the marketplace, check your privilege. This is what a world without privilege looks like: a marvelous template on which every buyer is permitted to paint a beautiful picture. And the results are amazing precisely because no one person is in charge.
And even though we have all these decades of history to look back on and discover patterns, this much we know: we do not know what this year will bring. It’s a world of delight and surprise, just like Christmas morning. The market invites everyone to experience that joy every day of their lives.