Democracy and the free market go hand in hand. If people vote for what products they want, it is hard to stop them wanting to vote for what government they want.
“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
— Winston Churchill
It is easy to think that you know better than the people, in their selection of government or their selection of products. People’s choices can, at least in the short term, be manipulated by those who will manipulate and deceive to get what they want.
The success rate of planned economies and imposed governments, though, has always been much less than free markets and democracy. The results have been downright terrifying.
Whatever your reason for slagging the power of individual choice, of resisting the market, even if that reason is some spiritual belief that you have the right ideas to clean up the mess that the market or the democracy is in, you are wrong.
Slagging the market, disdaining the choices of those less smart, less spiritual, or even less worthy than you is always a fascist position. The market will never be totally holy or perfect, but then again, neither will you. At least the market uses the combined smarts of all of us, the wisdom of crowds.
To participate in the market, we have to be clear that what we have isn’t just nice, it is also currency. We trade what we have to others for what we want, whether that is getting out of our poor village or bringing education back to that village to help raise up the people we love. For women, this has often been beauty and other gendered skills, the ability to satisfy a man and deliver more than what he wants, needs and expects.
The market has to benefit everyone to work. When we partner with others to get what we need or want, there has to be some benefit to them in doing the work. That’s why, for example, publishing art is so much different than just creating art, because publishing means there is a whole chain of people who work to help us and who need to be valued and recompensed for their time and effort on our behalf.
It’s a lovely notion to believe that good and virtuous ideas will succeed on their own merit, that they will draw their own success, but there are just too damn many good ideas, most of them untested and flawed. The market knows how to decide which ideas have value by the simple test of finding which ones people are willing to give up their hard earned currency for.
This means that in the end, a mediocre idea well executed will beat a wonderful idea with poor execution. The market rewards ideas that work, not theories that are more pure, and working in the world always involves compromise. It may be true that a good idea will always surface in the end, but miss the timing or the execution and you may well get no benefit from that surfacing, not even credit.
The only way we can return the gift of our journey, deliver the help and transformation to the wider world, is to participate in the market. We need to be able to market ourselves, our ideas, our services and our products in the world to show they have value and offer them to those who need them and don’t yet know it.
The market is where we fight to trade what we have for what we want. It is where we fight to establish the value of our gifts and let that value grow. It is where we fight to sharpen our offerings, shaping ourselves anew based on the demands and lessons of desire and need.
There are, of course, limits to the market, as I wrote in 1995. Capital can be coercive, no doubt.
That does not stop the market from being the best system of offering value, opportunity and possibility that humans have been able to create throughout all of time.
To avoid the market is not spiritual or divine, rather it is to avoid the power of choice between options that is at the basis of vetting and conveying the best parts of human endeavour. We take what we have and make our bets, learning from the outcomes how to make better bets the next time.
By participating in the market we are able to keep the circle of giving going, passing the fruits of our labour from hand to hand, being inclusive of more and more people, and growing wealth by sharing it between us. Many countries have found that microlending to women is a great way to build community structure and take care of families in need.
Cutting people off from the market, as slavery does, for example, is a simple way to economical disempower them, leaving them subservient and impoverished. One of the key challenges I have found as a transperson has been a traditional resistance to accept the gifts of transgender, facing a kind of embargo that denies the power of those gifts. That is changing, of course, but it is still a struggle.
The process of marketing, of thinking through the needs of others and the best way to satisfy those needs, is an important discipline. It is a big part of how we perform service in the world, offering and spreading so much of the gifts we have been given, receiving and being changed by the gifts we give.
The market is where we fight to offer what we have and in return get what we need and desire. That fight is part of the process lets us make more conscious and effective choices.
Sure, not everything valuable in life can be bought and sold, so not having a balance to the market, controls on control and a safety net for everyone is a problem, but in the end an open market is the worst form of setting value and getting what we need, except for all those other forms we have tried from time to time.
None of us alone are smarter than the market. Participating in the market makes us smarter, sharing what we have in a way that can benefit all.
That’s just, in the end, so very human.