"An economy that embodies the principles of the gift is an economy that is simply grounded in the truth. The task before us is to align money with the true expression of our gifts." - Charles Eisenstein
The phrase "free market" has become somewhat of a lightning rod, meaning completely different things to different political factions. But to clarify things, it helps to realize that the phrase is often misused.
A truly free market would create a radically different world from that in which we currently live. From an anthropological perspective, trade and valuation of STUFF is really the root and occasion for all "politics," so it's insane that market concepts are rarely challenged on the national level—it's all but taboo since the dollar is the "invisible god" finally incarnated by the Protestants who so ardently sought it. Let us green warriors reclaim this thing they call the "free market," since some who use it have quite odd notions of freedom, shaped by neo-liberal individuality and consumerism (both only supported by severe disconnection from primal awareness/mammalian brain-processing). Our green-anarchist 'free market' would be, in fact, much like a decentralized barter/gift economy. It would also actually enable secessionist politics—allowing any municipality to institute socialistic systems provided there was consent from all participants. There would be no choosing between "left" and "right" politics. The more (most?) meaningful choice is whether you "choose" the nation-state, and with it, fiat currency. Unfortunately most of us make this choice in a de-facto way by participating in (the majority of) culture/civilization.
I used to be allergic to the term "free market," but one thing my libertarian friends have taught me that I think is really powerful is that we Americans don't actually live in a "free market." Our economy is a mixed one, which has favored synergy between government and corporate interests and fostered a terrible state of cronyism and plutocracy. Yet this state of affairs is somehow still idealized in terms of "free market" jargon, which is just pure and sinister disinformation. *This* market is only "free" to some people—and as it turns out most of them aren't even people. The sector in which this has some of the biggest impact is the trade in natural resources—especially certain commodity foods and oil. Honestly, the main reason I care about any of this is because of my interest in protecting small farms and cottage industries—hence the "bioregional autonomy" which is one of the themes of this blog.
The libertarians tend to blame the corruption on the government, and the progressives tend to blame it on the corporations.
In my view, both of these are wrong. Obviously both explanations are too simple. For one thing, they just happen to correspond to names we've created! Classic case of false dichotomy. The nature of the synergy between what people call "government" and what people call "corporations" is not properly respected. Moreover, people get tripped up by labels and forget that both of the above categories are both TYPES of power structures made up of people, and aren't really that different.
Political ideas that have the most resonance for me are similar to those advocated by the anarchistic Murray Bookchin, variously known as libertarian socialism or libertarian municipalism.
Normally people don't associate the words "libertarian" and "socialist,"
not least because of the occupation of the "libertarian" moniker by an odd constellation of conservatives, and the stereotypes about "socialism" that are too well-known and tiresome to list here. One of my main points relates to economies of scale. It acknowledges that something like democracy (direct democracy) is only really possible on very small scales, and so the municipality is far better suited for anything like "democracy" than a large, centralized gov't that counts thousands of square miles in its jurisdiction. Some liberals love to remind the anarchists that without "the government" we wouldn't have roads or other "vital" types of infrastructure—and I agree that some "libertarians" indeed seem oblivious to this fact. Yet not quite relating to either of these groups, all I have to say on the subject is: I'll only care about the "maintenance" of any large scale communication or transportation infrastructure if it doesn't contribute to terrible health, zombie-like states of mind, consumerism, and absurd levels of environmental degradation. Until then, thanks but no thanks. Don't tell me that federal infrastructure is "vital." Infrastructure might seem "benevolent" but it's one of the destroyers of genius loci—of Place. I grew up in a state with one highway and it is a weird sort of space-time vortex. A wormhole, which, if you use it too much, distorts your inborn sense of "creature-time." For the last year and a half I've lived in a place that is mostly highway. At this point I'd rather live in a world without them, and am ready to take on the full responsibility of what that means.
A while ago I realized that do support the ideal of a free market. Wait, before you leave, hear me out! I want to radically re-define it. I support it minus one important factor: federally regulated currency. Wanting a "free market" entirely transacted via the Dollar, and wanting one without the constraints imposed by a federal currency are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT IDEOLOGIES with hugely divergent ramifications. Unfortunately many well-informed supporters of an anarcho-capitalist or free-market ideal don't give this key variable the scrutiny it deserves. And similarly, too many progressives balk at the set of philosophies that associate themselves positively with the "free market" sign. One reason for this is just that we simply take currency for granted, and it acts as a God, orienting all members of the economy toward it and constraining their agency (thus actually outperforming god/s at their own game). Constrained agency isn't necessarily a bad thing—it can create great adaptive power, for example, in ant or bee hives. But I have the deepest-seated hunch that THIS type of constrained agency (that imposed by the Fed) is the Wrong Type.
A truly free market would not have the Dollar as its life-blood—it would involve barter and local currencies, and it would indeed be an amalgam of such smaller systems. Whether neoclassical economists like it or not, the economy will always be a subset of the planetary ecosystem. Ecological economists like to tout the tenet that infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet, but this ignores the important fact that the earth is not a closed system—it is powered by the sun (cue MC Hawking's amazing song about Entropy). I cannot pretend to fully comprehend the ramifications of galactic ecology and non-equilibrium thermodynamics, and I only ask that others not be so brazen as to suggest that it justifies some human economic ideal of 'infinite growth.' Obviously, the ideal of infinite growth is a huge problem—mostly because it's basically meaningless and is essentially a provisional justification for current behavior. But the bottom line for me is, the sooner economies can mimic natural (i.e. encompassing) ecologies, the better (they already do in some ways!) You might say, well, the Dollar helps simulate an ecosystem, because it stands in for energy. This is true in one sense, but false in another. In the wild, "energy" has many different forms and manifestations. It is only in the human-conceived endeavor of theoretical and particle physics that energy can be abstracted to equations or single units. Energy has as many forms as biotic life itself—it literally IS life! If we really wanted to test the viability of the money = energy idea, there would be only one world currency. That might actually work "better" than several imperial currencies controlling the world's economic system as they do now, but it still is very problematic, because any large-scale or global currency naturally will place tender farther from actual use value, not to mention the crap that would go down in the bankster circles. I mean look at what happened with the Euro… Must we really make that mistake again?
The Earth is incredibly diverse in its biomes—there are deserts, rainforests, boreal pine forests, marshland, tundra, and grasslands, not to mention the many aquatic biomes that we know even less about. In different terrestrial bioregions, different values are placed on different resources. Obviously several indispensable resources and processes make possible life as we know it on planet Earth—among them water, the atmosphere (including oxygen), and light. But you'll always find extreme exceptions to the normal requirements for life—things that can thrive without light or oxygen, or in extremely hot or freezing environments. Ultimately, things like sunlight, water, and oxygen potentiate the planetary biosphere as we know it. But proximately, local ecosystems and their constituent life forms place premiums on a plethora of different resources, and you or I or anyone can't possibly forecast all of them. They are, to be certain, not recognizably uniform. But notice that I said they are not *recognizably* uniform. There may be commonalities among "ecological currencies," like say if you were to measure, with scientific instruments, the calorie-value of two food sources both highly valued in their respective environments. But a "calorie" is still only a fabricated sign that corresponds (badly I might add) to a biological process, measured in a highly regulated lab setting that does not necessarily mimic organic metabolism. The point is, any and all ecological currencies are regulated from the bottom-up instead of the top-down. This means that they must all abide by certain local laws, say, of physics or thermodynamics, and all have immediate utility in the environments that created them. To put it another way, Forests don't run on electricity, at least not in its AC/DC form. And if there's a "switch" that will power down desert ecology, that same switch won't work for say, a rainforest ecology.
However, if we destroy the planet's biodiversity—like we have been doing—we are literally destroying the key factor to true "economic" resiliency. Vandana Shiva has written much about this. If all place is homogenized through development and monoculture, the true potential for novelty and diversity inherent in the earth is forcefully masked with an illusion. The illusion will not last.
"Primitive" or Neolithic human societies yield perhaps the best example of how we get from "a natural resource that supports life in a certain ecological niche" to "currency"—or something that has a socially/culturally agreed upon value in a certain area. Humans not only extract vital resources (like food, water, clothing, and shelter) from their environments, but they employ natural resources to create 'second-order resources'—tools, for example, that further aid in the gathering of the vital resources. Moreover, with the ability to be enchanted by the 'numinous' presence of materials and objects, humans fashion items for ritual, sacred, or aesthetic use. These too, are tools for extracting or procuring resources, but in this case the resources are invisible to the more scientifically and empirically-minded in our society. As you might know from reading this blog, I find this oversight incredibly detrimental to preserving and understanding the wealth of human knowledge and participation with ecosystems. Things that acted as the "first" indices of value in human societies were often accorded cosmological significance, and so the issue of the 'sacred' is central to economics, whether we like it or not, and whether it corresponds to any sort of "real" presence or not (because the argument between atheists and theists is a red herring and will never be resolved).
But when I look at dollar bills, I don't see the natural wealth of the earth shine through—I only see the arrogance of civilization. After all, they're made of paper. It's like a running joke that we're all too hypnotized to laugh at.
As with many of my post-civilization rants, the primary purpose of the above was and is to continue to motivate me to create the life I want for myself and other living things. I hope it doesn't come across as angry or blindly destructive—for it is in fact, lovingly destructive. There is a huge difference, and the latter has great power ;)
If you're interested in this topic, I highly recommend the recent book Sacred Economics by one of my favorite thinkers, Charles Eisentein. See a video summary here. His thoughts incorporates many core ideas from ecological economics.
Other influences here are Murray Bookchin, John Zerzan, and especially Zapatista philosophy.