market culture

Postal Hucksters

I used to enjoy going to my small-town post office, here in Amherst, Massachusetts, because the clerks were so friendly. They would chat amiably with other townspeople, and laugh at small talk, and point with pride at photos of their grandchildren. I never knew any of them personally, but I always enjoyed the folksy tone that they set for the post office.

NAFTA, Mexican Corn and the Commons

What happens when a market-based agricultural juggernaut invades a 9,000-year-old system of commons-based maize production in Mexico? What are the on-the-ground consequences? How have the farmers using traditional agriculture responded? Journalist Peter Canby offers a stunning account of this saga in his well-reported piece in The Nation, “Retreat to Subsistence.” Highly recommended reading.

What Is Value?

All economies require social trust to work. While there are many reasons for the lack of confidence in the marketplace today, surely one of the most important is the unreliability of price as an indicator of value. A lot of people just don’t trust prices as reflecting the actual worth of a house or corporation, let alone the intangibles of social life or nature that we also value.

This is symptomatic of the crisis of neoliberal economics and public policy. As I see it, there are a number of mutually reinforcing reasons for the waning confidence in the price system:

Decadence and Redemption in the Music Biz

Is there such a thing as artistic integrity in music-making any more? It depends on where you turn your gaze. As Charles Dickens might say, this is the best of times and the worst of times. The music marketplace is becoming more predictable and sterile even as new Internet-based business models allow fans and artists to connect in healthy -- and yes, profitable -- ways.

Let’s start first with Jon Pareles’ depressing account in the New York Times about the proliferation of marketing tie-ins for new music.

A New Dismal Science -- "Happiness Economics"

In the mid-1990s, my colleague Jonathan Rowe co-authored a major piece in The Atlantic about the gross deficiencies of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a way to measure national well-being and progress. The essential point was that our nation’s obsession with economic growth as an end in itself was (and is) trampling on all sorts of other forms of wealth that we must also nurture. We need stable families and communities as much as economic growth — and sometimes the two are in direct conflict.

The Tragedy of the Anticommons

Property law is not exactly a riveting subject, and law professors are not usually good storytellers. But in his new book The Gridlock Economy, Michael Heller, a professor at Columbia Law School, has written one of the most intelligent and accessible critiques of how overly broad property rights can be harmful not only to the commons, but to the market.