Saturday, June 20, 2009

a lesson in defining the spheres of market and society and why they ought to be separate: a reconsideration of the tragedy of the commons

Found via the blog Arts and Letters Daily: Bernard Bailey, "The Invisible Hand of Population Control"

I'm pretty sure which implication is worse, the original point of Hardin's article (population control through eugenicide), although Bailey's prescription for a "free market economy" to create zero population control is not much better. Here we are with another example of someone trying to apply "market logic" to a problem that clearly should be outside of the commodification debate: children!

Then what's the right answer, if the "free market in shackles" will only lead us to overpopulation according to Bailey? One only needs to look at a notable but under-discussed response to the supposed "Tragedy of the Commons": that it does not exist in the first place.

In this article, Ian Angus outlines the various ways in which societies have solved the "tragedy of the commons" and kept the commons. He does so by outlining research that has shown how social norms such as team monitoring can enforce the communal ownership of land.

So how does this relate back to Bailey's post? Simply, that some problems are not solved by market solutions. We don't need the market to solve the Tragedy of the Commons that leads to overpopulation because the population problem exists outside of the market framework, in the framework of cultural and social traditions. Addressing his point that economically free societies have zero population growth brings in a host of new questions: Japan has a negative growth rate. Isn't this just as suboptimal for a society as a positive growth rate of population? For millenia, society was governed by a "Malthusian trap". And it was not the unleashing of a free market economy that led to the subsequent population boom: popular writers such as Ha Joon Chang have shown how industrialization was heavily state-aided.

There are so many issues with free market rhetoric applied to all social phenomena that I'm not sure where to begin with a theoretical critique. And in fact, the theoretical critique is very complicated. For my economic history comprehensive exam I am currently trying to get through Margaret J. Radin's Contested Commodities, which is a philosophical critique of economists such as Becker who believe in the radical commodification view of the economy. Find it here:

It's very difficult, however, so I must refrain from any comments on it until I've had more time to look through it.

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