No Real Choices!?

In the article linked to at the bottom of the page, Richard Reeves shows in a series of bar graphs how many of our economic choices are limited to only a handful of suppliers. 

It’s very clever and more than clever, significant. For if our economic choices are often illusory where are the benefits that capitalism claims to confer? 

The “free market” we are told under the tenets of Neo-Liberalism is the most efficient organizers of economic goods. That means we live in a wondrous world of constantly innovating companies developing new products while ceaselessly improving the old ones! It’s a virtual heaven, this economic paradise where the “invisible hand” faultlessly arranges salaries, benefits, and every other kind of economic good with surgical precision.

But is this really what’s going on? I mean aside from the occasional little blip like insulin costing six dollars a bottle to make and costing some poor soul $1200 to $1500 a month, where are all these choices? Take a look at Reeves’ graphs.

We should have significant choices in price, quality and capability. Yet for many of our choices, the least is basically identical to the most expensive. What’s the deal? The deal is that once a market share is carved up, rocking the boat and endangering your share with innovation and pricing could be counterproductive so the massive engine of “free enterprise” is usually geared to “idle.” — and we all suffer for an illusion instead of the promise.

Organizing economic goods through capitalism is a difficult problem because the fact is, capitalism tends to move money into fewer hands over time and if unchecked even fewer and fewer hands after that. The reason that capitalism has been successful in many senses up till now is because we as a nation limited its actions, for instance, by having a minimum wage or forcing companies to pay for worker injuries. This distributed its benefits more evenly.

If we lived as wild animals, complete and constant competition and the uneven rewarding of economic goods would make sense. But we are cooperative species bound by the limits of law and the dictates of our conscience and continuing development of civilization.

Let us cooperate to have a wide distribution of economic goods and sense of citizenship and cooperation.

James Pilant

Starbucks v Dunkin’: how capitalism gives us the illusion of choice

Richard Reeves