It’s ok to be absolutist about markets

In embracing markets as the key organizing force behind the social order, libertarians are quick to become absolutists about markets. The division of labor, commercial activity, entrepreneurship, private enterprise, and the price system all  become central to the libertarian’s idea system. And rightfully so. We are correct about markets. They are crucial, indeed required, for the social order to be one characterized by mutually beneficial, peaceful interaction and not by a warlike race between violent, competing interests. Contra our detractors, markets encourage social cooperation, not individual isolationism.

The primary motivating factor to be against statism, government democracy, and central planning is that it achieves precisely what socialists claim markets lead to: the division of society based on competing factions, all fighting for the reigns of power. But the market is a force for social good, not social destruction. The state, whose origins are found in conquest and robbery, is the biggest perpetuator of the forces of social destruction.

When the institutions of society are enveloped by those who represent incompatible interests (such as one class aiming to rob or exploit another), the social order breaks down. It rewards the barbaric, violent, unjust, and base instincts of humans. Voluntary organization and the division of labor, on the other hand rewards the utmost moral activity of humans: the concentration of our productive efforts into something that is simultaneously rewarding to your own happiness and to the lives of others; the treatment of your fellow people as ends in themselves rather than objects to be manipulated for the furtherance of your interests.

When power and force is centralized, even monopolized, by an entity with an arbitrary claim to decision making, it inevitably puts those with the most lust for power and least amount of moral fortitude at the top of the pyramid of power. Those people who are better at manipulating, lying, and using others for their ends are hailed as leaders and saviors. The market process, on the other hand, limits the power of those individuals through the accountability inherent in free and open competition. Instead, the market process incentivizes cooperative behavior; action that is conducive to your own self interest is inextricably tied to serving the interests of your community and society.

But this doesn’t mean the market anarchist project is one of valuing only market values in all human interactions. Rather, we are concerned with the institutional structure that the social order operates in. And as political theorists, we all have ideas about the background conditions that enables the social order to flourish the most. Merely favoring a certain institutional structure to another doesn’t commit one to favoring the norms that underline those institutions in every context or individual decision.

Being for markets doesn’t mean I only value the traits of entrepreneurship, commercialization, pricing, or whatever else can be said to be a specifically market value. These are not the only goods for human flourishing. In fact, they are just the beginning of that story. If anything, my support for markets is tied to my belief that the institutionalization of markets (private property, prices, division of labor, etc) promotes a much  more comprehensive and encompassing conception of the human good; one that involves friendship, family, virtue, art, reason, pleasure, self-esteem, and recreation. My belief is the principles of voluntarism in the political sphere (anarchy) best enables people to achieve their own, individualized conception of the good in their own lives.

The whole point is that we want the social order to take place in the background of market conditions, partly for reasons of efficiency and partly for reasons of morality. But entwined with these is the recognition that a market order allows for the utmost freedom and individual choice, and that the other social forces that are not based on the market norms themselves (gift economies, mutual aid, social activism, etc) are more free and effective with the backdrop of the specifically market institutions.

These periphery values aren’t reason to lessen my absolutism about markets. Rather, they enforce the case for markets and are a reason to strengthen my absolutism. Nothing less than full market anarchism. 


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