Market Democracy

A contemporary drawing of Karl Marx as a young...

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A new post at ABC Democracy offers excerpts from a new book called Free Market Fairness.  It is a bit stomach-churning every time a free-marketeer tries to capture the banner of democracy, especially when it is a scholar who has thought about things a bit.  Here is part of the excerpt:

In this book, I introduce a liberal research program that I call market democracy. Market democracy is a deliberative form of liberalism that is sensitive to the moral insights of libertarianism. Market democracy combines the four ideas I just mentioned: (1) capitalistic economic freedoms as vital aspects of liberty, (2) society as a spontaneous order, (3) just and legitimate political institutions as acceptable to all who make their lives among them, (4) social justice as the ultimate standard of political evaluation. Here is a simple way to begin thinking about this view: market democracy affirms capitalistic economic liberties as first-order requirements of social justice.

The author’s claim that “capitalistic economic freedoms” are “vital aspects of liberty” and “first-order requirements of social justice” is just absurd.  But I was struck more by his insistence on “society as a spontaneous order.”  This resonates pretty clearly with the forms of acentered, non-hierarchical, leaderless, and emergent social organization that I think are an important element of what democracy means.  This resonance has been noticed many times before, and it is the basis of a supposed critique often raised by more party/vanguard-inclined leftists: such “anarchist” or “libertarian” values are right in line with liberal capitalism.  But I am not sure this critique concerns me as much as they think it should.  Because democracy as I understand it can in no way accommodate capitalist economic relations.  Marx made clear in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts that capitalism involves stark forms of alienation (worker-labor, worker-product, worker-worker, etc.) and exploitation (rooted in that alienation), and these are inimical to democracy’s insistence that people should manage for themselves the conditions of their own existence.  Put another way, Marx’s free activity beyond capitalism is a necessary part of democratic life.  So instead of seeing the Hayekians’ fondness for emergent/spontaneous organization as impugning my fondness for it, I take it instead as a deep contradiction at the heart of their thought.  It might be that they too want democracy—real democracy.  It might be that their praise for democracy is not merely a cynical attempt prop up capitalism’s legitimacy but flows instead from a sincere desire for real freedom, autonomy, and communal life, all of which could only exist in a world beyond capitalism.  I think there is hope for them yet.


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