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June 26, 2007



Some speed-skating here, methinks.

Reciprocity? A market without any built-in asymmetry of power - a market where everyone is equally free to trade or not to trade - might foster reciprocity. Such markets are special cases rather than the norm.

As for collectivism, I'll just note that you've done nothing to associate it with the market, so I won't bother challenging what would have been a highly counter-intuitive proposition.


"Success in a genuine market (as distinct from rent-seeking exploitatitive hierarchies) requires one to ask: what can I do for others?"

Isn't this missing the rather large question of "Who has the most money to spend", and markets will inevitably focus on them?

Mark Wadsworth

Seems fair enough.


"A market without any built-in asymmetry of power - a market where everyone is equally free to trade or not to trade - might foster reciprocity."

That is not necessary. All that is necessary is that you have a choice of people to do business with, and some means of judging how reliable they are (reputation, past experience, legal guarantees etc).

You will then prefer to deal with the people who are more trustworthy.

It is just another way for people to compete: lower cost, higher quality, greater trustworthiness etc. The same argument applies to any quality you might judge people on.

Power, as such, is not necessary, only options.


"Power, as such, is not necessary, only options."

So all that matters is that the crowd of day labourers have a choice of gates to queue outside?

I needed to eat today, I'll need to eat tomorrow and I'll need to eat the day after that. You need my help in order to go on producing widgets, but not at any price; if you can't sell enough to pay me and make a profit, you'll lay me off and tell the other workers to make more. Labour markets are inherently asymmetrical, which is to say coercive.


There is honour among thieves. I believe that there are even conventions of stolen credit card detail traders.

This is not what people who object to markets are objecting to.

Kevin Carson

Phil: Most of those "built-in asymmetries of power" are built in by the state. Let's start with the whole primitive accumulation thing--the Enclosures and other abrogations of the producing classes' customary property rights in the land. Don't you think that without those mass expropriations, the industrial revolution might have gone a bit differently? The working classes would have had a great deal more bargaining power from the ability to support themselves on the land if a job offer wasn't to their liking--not to mention the effects of social controls like the Laws of Settlement on the bargaining power of labor.

And the offers for employment might have come from considerably different parties, if wealth had not been concentrated in the hands of a small minority of capitalist, but had rather been widely distributed among the populace. Same goes for the various forms of legal privilege that enforce artificial scarcity of land and capital.

Will Davies

There is much here that I'd agree with. But for the sake of honesty and clarity, I think I need to point out differences between what Chris writes in his post and what I am getting at in the Soundings article.

Soundings' readership/constituency tends to be an intelligent, theoretically literate but failry Old Left bunch. Someone like Zygmunt Bauman is fairly emblematic of this, constantly arguing that market society leads to ever greater fragmentation and postmodern-type experiences of fleeting inner experiences.

I am trying to say two things:
1. Empirically speaking (Here I agree with Chris) it is not the case that the free market in 2007 does not produce collectives. Even David Harvey's new book on neoliberalism accepts that 'neoliberalisation' does not produce the individualism that 'neoliberalism' proclaims.

2. Normatively speaking (and here we disagree), this produces new objects of critique for the Left. I am trying to alert the left to the iniquities of these new collectives, and how they fall short of those that the left might believe in (the problem being that it no longer knows what the latter are). Politics built on ideas of market failure and competitiveness does involve collectivism, but is not social democracy.

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