Ted Trainer


(This document uses passages from The Economy; and Chapter 4 of The Transition.)

Just about everyone believes that a satisfactory economy must be basically a market system.  Even most of the critics of the present economy are likely to say that the market needs reforming but it would be the central mechanism in a good society.  A market system clearly has some impressive merits, but the following argument is that market forces have such extremely undesirable effects that the long term goal must be to build an economic system in which they have no role.


In an economic system based on the market mechanism the determinant of what is produced, where and how, of the prices of inputs and final goods, and of who gets the goods is, what will maximize profits in a situation where people bid competitively for goods, i.e., offer money for them.  This process obviously tends to have a number of desirable effects, such as moving production to the purposes most demanded because those are the ones most people want and will pay more for.   It elimninates high cost producers who canŐt compete, therefore moving production towards more efficient ways. The main merit claimed is to do with the "hidden hand" which "automatically" solves the billions of problems concerning what prices to set and what to produce, imagine if state bureaucracies had to make all these decisions,

This system has been largely responsible for an astounding explosion of production, efficiency, living standards and "development", technical advance and wealth over the last three hundred years.  The collapse of the Soviet Union and "communism" twenty years ago is generally taken to mean that a market based economy is without doubt the only sensible way, and most debate now is only about how best to manage it.  The general assumption is that it is best to leave as much as possible to the market and therefore to competition between private firms.

From the perspective of The Simpler Way we are entering a dramatically new era, one of intense and irremediable resource scarcity, loss of power by the imperial West, and ecological and social breakdown.  The argument below is that this situation has been brought about mostly by the market system and that when we look at the form a sustainable and just society will have to take we realize that it will have to replace market systems with other mechanisms, perhaps over a period of several decades.  (It will be explained that the answer is not to have the market replaced by state regulation and bureaucracy.)


Most people in countries like Australia do not think there is much if anything wrong with the market system.  It seems to work very well.  This is because it does work very well, for themBut the market mechanism is actually responsible for most of the worldŐs problems, including the poverty of billions, the transfer Third World wealth to rich countries, accelerating inequality, the destruction of the ecosystems of the planet, much of the armed conflict in the world, and the breakdown of social cohesion and the decline in quality of life in even the richest countries.  This will probably seem like an outrageously mistaken list of claims, so let us consider the grounds for them.

This economy is not designed to do what is needed,

just or ecologically sustainable.

Our economy is extremely productive.  It churns out enormous quantities of goods, many of them luxuries.  But at the same time there is huge unsatisfied need.  In Australia thousands of people want basic housing.  We need more and better hospitals.  Millions of Australians live under or just above the poverty line, going without things most people regard as basic.   One billion people in the world are extremely poor.    Huge environmental problems are not being attended to.  Why are these needs not met? 

The answer is, because it is not an economy in which we ask what needs producing and then organise our productive capacity to meet the need.   It is an economy in which,

á      most of the productive machinery (capital) is owned by a very few people,

á      who decide what to produce by asking what will make most money for themselves,  

á      and they can always make most money producing relatively luxurious or more expensive things to sell to people who have higher incomes than they could by producing the cheapest possible necessities for the most needy people, or by producing what is best for society and the environment.

It is easy to show that most of the waste, neglect, social breakdown, human suffering and ecological destruction occurring in the world is due to the working of market forces. In a market system what is produced and who gets it at what price is determined by who is able and willing to pay most.   The result is that  in a market system scarce things always go to those who can pay more for them.   In other words those who own resources will sell them for the highest price they can get, and richer people can pay higher prices.  Poor people have little or no "effective demand".  Need or justice is totally irrelevant and will not influence the outcome.  In a market system it does not matter how desperately something is needed, it will go to whoever can pay most for it.

This is why one-third of the worldŐs grain production, more than 600 million tonnes is fed every year to animals in rich countries, while every year around 850 million people are hungry.  It is why the rich countries take 3/4 of the worldŐs resource output and consume resources at a per capita rate that is 15-20 times that of the poorest half of the worldŐs people.

Thus the massive injustice in the global economy is an inevitable consequence of the fact that it is a market economy.  In a good society we would have an economy that ensured that scarce resources went primarily to those in most need.  If this happened then we in rich countries would have to get by on something like our fair share, that is, far less.

            Grossly inappropriate development.

Even worse is the fact that market forces ensure that the wrong things are developed.  For example in the Third World where there is obviously an urgent need for development of farms and factories to produce basic necessities for the majority of people who are very poor, very little development of this kind occurs while almost all the investment goes into developing farms and factories to export to rich countries.  Why?  Simply because these are the purposes that will yield most return on investment.  Investors will never maximise their profits developing industries to produce what is most needed, because the most urgent needs are felt by poor people and it is always much more profitable to produce what relatively rich people want.  (For more detailed discussion of the way these two mechanisms cause Third World underdevelopment and poverty see, Third World Development.)

This is the main mechanism that has developed the world into the forms and structures that serve the interests of the rich countries and especially their corporate elites.  Most of the productive capacity in the Third World now produces things that benefit only the transnational corporations, the few richer people in the Third World, and people who buy coffee in rich world supermarkets -- because producing to satisfy their demand is the most profitable aim for those with capital to invest.

              "But the market makes the most efficient allocations."

Conventional economists claim that the market makes the most "efficient" allocations of resources and investment.  This is absurdly wrong.  It is only true if we define "efficient" in terms of measuring the monetary return on investment.  If on the other hand we are concerned with using resources and capital to meet needs most effectively, or to do what is morally right, or to develop what is sensible or best for the environment, then market forces are not only appallingly inefficient, they will almost always result in precisely the wrong outcome!  Resource producers never sell vital resources to those in most need.  Foreign investors never develop industries to supply what most poor people need.  Market forces never result in just outcomes or those most likely to preserve the environment. 

Conventional economists, and most people in general, think the market system is effective, but this is because it has had such desirable consequences, for most people in rich countries.  What they overlook is the fact that they are rich.  They are among the few in the world who win and take when markets determine production, distribution and development.  The market system does work well – for them.  They have "effective demand", i.e., the money to buy things.   There are three large groups who have no power to bid in the market and therefore will get nothing from it – the poor majority of people on the planet, all future generations, and all other species..  Before you claim that the market works well ask those groups how well it works for them.

            "The freedom of enterprise"

Conventional economists claim as a merit of this economy the fact that it gives people a great deal of freedom to buy and sell and invest as they wish.  But the foregoing examples show that in our economy there is far too much freedom of enterprise, freedom to take by purchasing, and freedom for market forces to determine what happens.   Corporations and richer people have far too much freedom to do and to get what they want.  Third World plantation owners are free to plant coffee for export rather than food for local people.  Transnational corporations are free to invest in luxury production and to avoid investing in what most needs producing.  Richer people are free to take most of the scarce resources and goods on sale by being able to pay more for them.

It is of course desirable in principle to ensure that people have considerable freedom to do what they want, but obviously in a good society there must be many restrictions placed on individual freedom. There are many things that it makes sense for us not to allow each other to do if we want an orderly, sensible, just and sustainable society.  For example it is not a good idea to allow people the freedom to drive on whatever side of the road they choose to. This would reduce the freedom from danger that we all want.  When those who own most of the Third World land have the freedom to produce what they like this undermines the freedom of most people to have sufficient food. 

These have been arguments against the acceptability of a free enterprise or capitalist economy.  It does not follow that the alternative has to be a "communist" or "socialist" economy in which all productive property is owned by a state totally controlling the economy.  The alternative argued for in The New Economy of The Simpler Way is quite different.  In a satisfactory economy there might still be considerable scope for markets, private firms and freedom of enterprise, but there must be much social control, planning and regulation.  It will be stressed that this does not have to involve big-state planning bureaucracies but could be done in mostly small local economies through open and participatory processes in which all people share equally in making the decisions.  In the coming global conditions the Simpler Way will have to be about mostly small and highly self-sufficiency and self-governing communities, in which it becomes much easier to organize with little or no market.

Of course in a capitalist society the notion of this amount of social control over both the economy would be fiercely rejected, both by the few who benefit most by the system and by people in general.  They all fiercely insist on a system in which a few are free to get very rich taking more than they need, they all try to be one of the winners, and they all cheer the winner who becomes a tycoon, with no concern for the many who lose their livelihoods and the many who canŐt keep up

            What regulates?  Either the market, or needs and rights.

When you allow the market to be the determinant of what is produced and who gets it you are rejecting the other way of doing these things.   The other way to determine what is done is by making deliberate, rational decisions concerning  the needs and rights of people and whatŐs good for society and the environment.  The present economy ignores the needs that millions have for food, because it operates according to market principles.  This is not the way we run a household economy.  There, old people and children get a share of the food because we recognise that they have a need for and a right to food, not because they can pay more for it than someone else.  In a satisfactory economy the overriding criterion would be needs and rights, not market power, and the important decisions would not be left to the market.  (The Simpler Way vision is that for the near future it might be satisfactory to leave many less important economic decisions to market forces, although society must always be able to intervene if essential.)

As Polanyi and others have emphasized, if most or all things were left to the market to determine, society and its environment would be quickly destroyed. 

Markets are only about maximizing self interest, without any restraint, so richer people would become much richer, take more wealth, business and property for themselves, and a tiny super-rich class would emerge and increasing numbers would be dumped into low wages or unemployment and poverty. 

Obviously much regulation of the market by society is essential, and takes place in even the most enthusiastic neo-liberal states.  Australia is probably better than  most countries in providing for old, disabled etc., people, and providing fire brigades, parks and  environmental protection.  These things are achieved by preventing the market from determining what happens in these realms. What would happen to SydneyŐs central Hyde Park if its fate was left to be determined by market forces?  It would be quickly bought to build high rise luxury units.

The neo-liberal claim is that the less regulation on the freedom of business the better for the economy.  This is perfectly true if all you are interested in is the amount of business turnover, sales and GDP, which is indeed all that the conventional economist is interested in.  Of course regulation by definition prevents entrepreneurs doing some profitable business that would have led to more sales and GDP.  But often there are more important social priorities than that.


Unemployment is a central element in a market economy, i.e., an economy in which labour is treated as just another commodity that can be bought and sold in a market.  Unemployment reveals some of the worst irrationalities and injustices in this economy.

In this economy it would only be possible to solve the unemployment problem if there was a huge increase in the amount consumed and therefore in the amount produced and in the jobs required for that.  But we do not need anywhere near as much produced as there is now; present levels of production and consumption are quite unsustainable in view of the resource and ecological limits of the planet.  If we only produced as much as was sensible, with modern technology the unemployment rate in this economy might be well over 80%!  In a satisfactory economy we would organise to share the rather small amount of necessary work among all who wanted work. 

In this market economy labour is treated as just another "factor of production", like bricks or land, to be used in production according to what will maximise the return on investment.  But labour should not be treated as just another commodityLabour is people.  It is alright to leave a brick idle or to scrap it.  It is not alright to leave a person unemployed and without a reasonable income.  It is not alright to let market forces determine whether a person is dumped into unemployment. A major feature of a good society would be that it ensured that everyone had a livelihood; the opportunity to enjoy working at making a valued contribution.  A good society provides for its members; it does not let anyone fall into poverty or disadvantage.  No one is poor, unemployed, excluded or dumped in a tribal society. (The Bedouins say, "A poor man among us would shame us all.")

The fault here is that conventional economic theory excludes from decisions all factors other than money costs and benefits.  These are relevant but they should always be given much less attention than considerations of justice, morality and the welfare of people and ecosystems.  The misery of unemployment, the damage it causes to morale and self-concept, are real and serious costs, which economists and people with capital completely ignore, which means someone else has to pay them.  Often we should keep people in jobs even though this might be quite inefficient or costly in monetary terms.  It would be very easy for governments to organise cooperatives in which unemployed people could produce some of the things they need, or do socially valuable things such as environmental restoration.  During the Great depression millions suffered for a decade when governments could have prevented this by setting up cooperatives, but such action is not acceptable in a capitalist economy. 

It is easy to organise an economy without there being any unemployment.  There is none in the economy of the Kibbutz settlements, or in a tribal society or a monastery.  In those economies people simply arrange to share the work that needs doing among the people who want work.  Only backward and uncivilised societies allow unemployment.

It suits the owners of capital if labour is treated as a commodity that can be bought and sold in a labour market, like bricks and just left idle if no one wants to buy any of it.  But many important things should not be treated as a commodity that can be bought and sold, including children, friendship, the judgments of lawyers, loyalty, good health care, prison sentences, fire protection, clean air, safe water, public parks,   Again the power of capitalist ideology is apparent.  Almost everyone, including unemployed workers, accept without question that whether or not people can have a livelihood and an income and thereby escape the misery of unemployment and poverty should depend on whether employers can make more money giving people more jobs. 


Inevitably when market forces are allowed to be the major determinants of what happens in a society, inequality tends to become much worse over time.  Those richer and more powerful in the first place are able to get most of the resources, sales, profits and benefits available.  Those too poor to play in the market are at best ignored and get no benefits, but often the resources they had are taken from them and they are dumped into "exclusion".  Just glance at the figures (See Inequality documents), e.g., the wealth of the super-rich .1% in the US is going through the roof, but the income of 80% of US workers has actually not increased in decades!  ThatŐs what globalization and freeing the miracle of the market does.

"But economic planners cannot make all the decisions the market makes."

Most people would argue that a major merit of the market system is that it does away with any need for massive state bureaucracies to decide on what to produce, how to distribute, what prices to set etc.  The market seems to make billions of such decisions automatically.  But of course this is quite mistaken; the massive bureaucracy is there; itŐs just within private firms.   Vast numbers of people meticulously decide what to produce, what price to set etc, .working within corporations, shops, warehouses etc.

Probably the most impressive characteristic of the market is that it drives innovation and restructuring powerfully.  It will get rid of an "inefficientŐ firm very quickly, or decide which of two competitors survives, or which new product is to succeed.  If such decisions had to be made by committees wouldnŐt there be interminable debates, corruption, support for mates in firms that should be closed, etc?   These are the obvious kinds of problems that would indeed have to be dealt with in an alternative economy.  However, consider the following points.

The morality of the market is unacceptable.

Even if we were able to prevent market forces from generating unjust outcomes, the fundamental motivation and values operating within markets is not acceptable.  Markets require and reinforce undesirable attitudes, values and practices.  In markets prices are always set as high as possible, which means that the driving principle is to maximise; i.e., it is greed.  Price is not set by reference to the cost of production, or the capacity of the seller to make a sufficient income, or by what people can pay, etc. Markets are always about suppliers trying to get as rich as possible, and buyers trying to pay as little as possible.  The seller does not ask himself what is enough; he asks what is the most he can get. In Medieval and ancient economies there was often the idea of a "just price", but we have no such idea now.

 In addition the situation is predatory; you must be careful because the other person is likely to cheat you.  If someone is forced to sell you pounce on a "bargain ". "Fire sales" are acceptable.  If someone really wants something you have that didnŐt cost you much it is alright to charge much more than  you need to.  These are not the ways we will want people to behave in the satisfactory society we will have some day.

The conventional economist thinks that if supply falls price "naturally" rises.  This is not so.  If you are running out of weet-bix at home the price does not rise.  You decide who should have what's left and what they should pay in terms of what's best for everyone.  Price only rises in situations where sellers find they are able to demand more and therefore choose to raise their prices even when they have no need to.  That's not nice.  Above all, in a market situation behaviour is about limitless gain, which means ultimately it is incompatible with sustainability.

The market situation eliminates consideration of the important issues.  In a market system by definition no attention is or can be given to rights, justice, the public good, future generations or the environment.  If you allow these considerations to influence your behaviour in the market you will be trashed; someone else will sell cheaper, get the contract, or drive you out of business.

But the right way for humans to interact puts a premium on friendliness, helping, giving and generosity, cooperation and care for the welfare of the other.  In a good society we would have institutions and systems which both required and reinforced these values and behaviours.  They cannot survive in a marketing society.

Polanyi is one who emphasizes how in tribal, peasant and ancient societies social/moral values controlled the economy, and how in the fifteenth century the economic sphere became free from such values and constraints. (See below.)

            The loss of social cohesion and quality of life.

In other words, when buying and selling within a market situation is allowed to become the main mechanism determining what happens in a society, then desirable social attitudes, bonds and relations are damaged or entirely driven out.  This is an extremely important point, (especially elaborated in the works of Polanyi and Marx.)  It is not just that in a market relations between people are less than desirable.  It is that society itself is destroyed; the bonds and arrangements that constitute society are contradicted and driven out.

When you enter a market situation to buy or sell you have to be selfish. You go into the market to get things for yourself, and you must focus on how to maximise your own advantage and to minimise that of the other person.  Because markets allocate things to those who can pay most for them the situation does not encourage thought about what would be good for other people or for society as a whole. But it is impossible to have any society, let alone a good one, unless there is much more than self interest, i.e., unless there is concern with what would be good for others and for the society as a whole. Self-interest is only one of the many motives and values people have, and the quality of their society depends on their social and moral values, not on their self interest, competitieness and acquisitiveness. The quality of a society depends on the forces, relations and bonds which restrain and outweigh self-interest and encourage behaviour that is good for society.

Thus the things that constitute society are the values its members hold which transcend selfish concerns, that is concerns for social values such as being honest, doing the right thing, seeing justice done, standards, the public good, what is good for others, traditions and customs, cultural values and practices, equity, morality and decency, pride in society, respect for law, appreciation of good institutions, concern for those less fortunate, concern for the environment and desire to see social progress.  If these concerns are not there then you do not have a society.  Yet the relations you have in a market situation contradict and prohibit these concedrns. The more emphasis we put on mere market relations, i.e., trading to maximise individual monetary wealth, then the less attention and value will be given to the other-regarding values that make society possible, let alone satisfactory or admirable.

What would happen if mum made the toast and sold it to the highest bidder?

Dad would get the toast, because he can pay more for it. The kids, and grandma, would starve.

The things that make a family satisfactory are precisely the many non-market values and relations, the giving, mutual aid, and concern for the welfare of others, and the satisfaction that comes from doing what will help others thrive.  When you let market relations determine what happens you drive out good human relations and replace them with self-interest, suspicion and predatory behaviour.


The market in history.

Most people wrongly assume that the market system is and has always been the norm in human society.

Polanyi explains that in all known societies before our own, if there was a market it was "embedded in" society and governed by social rules, custom, religion and morality.  A general moral code governed all behavior.  One would approach decisions to do with production or distribution as one would approach those to do with attending church or painting a picture, that is by considering the general social rules and bonds governing the way you must treat people and the environment.  For instance in Medieval times everything you did was in accord with GodŐs expectations, including producing and exchanging.  Polanyi stresses that only our society has made "The Great Transformation" to a situation in which the economic sphere has been separated from society and allowed to proceed according to a new set of rules which are not subject to control by the general social or moral code.  The new rules are the rules of the market.  In this arena you can seek to maximize wealth through buying and selling without any concern for loyalty, friendship, the welfare of others, the effects on the environment, the damage to social cohesion, or the suffering and impoverishment that results, or whether outcomes are just or respect human rights.  All that needs to be considered are your own monetary costs and benefits.  Thus the economy is freed from social control. 

For instance, in Medieval Europe it was immoral to take advantage of a person in distress.  But in our present economy it is quite acceptable to buy goods very cheaply if someone is forced by a fire or bankruptcy to sell for whatever he can get.

Polanyi, Marx and many others have stressed that the unregulated market is an extremely socially destructive force.  It will quickly destroy society and ecosystems if not carefully controlled, because it gives the strongest individuals the capacity to take as much as they can.  Polanyi discusses at length the way the emergence of the market system in England destroyed rural society.  It tore people from their traditional places of living, eliminated community, wiped out their networks and customs, and security systems, their sources of self respect, leisure and assistance etc. 

Thus we can see the serious mistake in allowing the market to have much influence in society, let alone in identifying a society with its economy which economists are strongly inclined to do.  Markets, wealth-seeking, trading, investing and making money are dangerous to society, because they are about individuals pursuing self-interest. It might be acceptable to have a large market sector within a society, so long as it is a minor part of the society and so long as moral, pro-social values and rules are much more important considerations.

Polanyi calls for the market to be "re-embedded" in society.  However, from the perspective of The Simpler Way this is clearly unsatisfactory.  Of course it is preferable that the market should be subject to much social control if that is possible.  The extent to which present society is tolerable is largely a function of the extent to which regulation prevents the market from operating.  However the ultimate goal must be to develop an economy that does not involve market forces.  (The Simpler Way vision is detailed in The New Economy.)

The neo-liberal scourge.

Over the last 500 years there has been a titanic struggle for freedom for the individual, i.e., freedom from rule by tyrants, kings and popes, and freedom to do oneŐs own thing and to believe what one wishes.  This has been of immense significance for human emancipation.  The trouble is that it has also freed acquisitiveness from moral/social control.  For instance in Medieval times lending money to receive any interest was regarded as a mortal sin, banned by the Catholic church.  In that era feudal lords were bound by moral laws to provide for and protect their serfs.  (See the notes on the writings of Polanyi and Tawney on the enormous cultural difference between that era and our own.)  But in the capitalist era there are only weak moral considerations restraining some from taking more and more and from seriously harming the welfare of others.  (For instance it is quite acceptable to drive a competitor into bankruptcy.)  Over a period of a hundred years or so the labour and "socialist" movements managed to establish stricter controls over the freedom of the entrepreneur, by giving the state power to regulate. But by the1970s capitalŐs ceaseless drive to find more investment outlets was increasingly coming up against barriers set by state regulation – so capital determined to get rid of it.  Hence globalization, an era in which impediments to the pursuit by corporations of limitless investment opportunities are increasingly swept aside.  (See Globalisation, in The Economic System.) 

The worst thing about globalisation is not societyŐs loss of capacity to regulate the economy in order to meet needs (not that it this was ever done very well), or the resulting economic catastrophe afflicting millions and killing thousands of Third World people every day.  It is the effect on culture and world view, the ideological shift affirming the desirability and legitimacy of individuals having freedom from social regulation to maximise their own self interest.

Polanyi stresses this distinction.  In all societies prior to ours if there was a market then it was not allowed to be more than a minor element, under strict social control.  In Medieval society for instance there were social rules deriving from tradition, morality and religion governing behaviour in any area, such as be fair and donŐt take advantage of others.  These governed behaviour when people entered any situation including economic situations.  In other words economic behaviour was just category "embedded" in society and subject to the same general rules.   But as Polanyi details, around the sixteenth century there began a "Great Transition" to the situation where the economic sphere was separated from society and regarded as being subject to very different rules, i.e., the rules of the market.  These do not include care for the underdog, fairness, do what God expects, etc.; they are just to do with maximising selfish gain.  This has gone so far that what we now have is a marketing society; that is one in which these rules apply to most things, in which we go about almost everything asking what will maximize my advantage in the market.

Throughout the last four hundred years this new orientation has been pushed by the classes whose interests it serves, obviously those who own capital and benefit when there are free markets, which allow them to make money with minimal interference from society.  Polanyi stresses that society resists the resulting destruction, and at times wins back social control, e.g., through the emergence of the trade union movement, and the post World War 11 era of "big-state socialism".  But the current neo-liberal era represents a powerful surge in the onslaught by the forces of selfishness.  Now we are all pushed to be individual entrepreneurs who must focus on our own self-interest and survival in a difficult and hostile market place, working against all others, knowing that not all can get jobs or prosper or be secure.  Neo-liberalism makes altruism and cooperation and concern about social issues irrelevant at best, or liabilities holding us back.  It generates a more selfish, mean, unequal, predatory, brutal and callous society, undermining the fundamental social bonds, solidarity and cohesion.  As has been explained, the result has been the accelerating destruction of society itself, of the attitudes, habits, ideas and institutions which assume and reinforce the importance of values other than self interest.

These problems of cohesion cannot be solved in or by consumer-capitalist society.  The problems are caused by the fundamental elements in such a society, by the competitive selfish pursuit of affluence and economic growth and especially by the excessive and increasing freedom given to market forces.   Solving the problems the market creates is not possible unless there is a vast and radical change to another, very different kind of society in which markets are very minor determinants of what happens, if they exist at all.  (Chapter 6 of The Transition to a Sustainable and Just Society discusses how the conditions experienced in The Simpler Way would build cohesion.)

Gain; the fundamental mistake.

Thinking about the market system also helps to clarify the fundamental problem  of gain.  Polanyi helps us to appreciate the huge distinction between "subsistence" economics and the market economy.  In all economies previous to our own exchange was "equal".  The "markets" were places where goods were exchanged in transactions that enabled participants to leave with items they didnŐt bring, but items of equal value to those they brought to exchange.  Those who had yams but no bananas could exchange some yams for some bananas, and go home with things of the same, equal, "value" as those they came with (e.g., things requiring as much work to produce).  There was, in other words no concept of gain and no intention of gaining from "trade".  Markets were therefore not driven by "market forces" and might be better described simply as places where equal exchange could take place.

The contrast with our society could not be more stark.  Just about all our economic relations are driven by the intention to gain.  People operate in the market place with the intention of coming out with more wealth than they had.  The point of investing and trading is to accumulate, to end up with more than one had in the first place, and over time to get richer with no limit in sight.

This is the root evil which has now generated the global predicament.  An economy driven by this determination to get more and  more without limit soon creates insufferable inequality as the fittest grab more and more, it uses up and devastates resources and environment, it shreds social cohesion as all are pitted in dog-eat-dog struggle to survive, and it generates increasingly serious financial crises.  Marx showed how the fundamental motive force in capitalism, the drive to accumulate, reinvest, accumulate more and more, leads to its fatal contradictions.  Markets are the things which enable gain. 

Even more important is the limits to growth analysis of our situation, which means that we must move to a zero-growth economy as soon as we can.  This is not possible unless there is enormous cultural change to values involving the rejection of all desire to increase wealth, that is all interest in gain.  Most people today would of course flatly reject this crucial point; i.e., that  there can be no place for gain in a satisfactory society.  Such a society must have and control an economy which provides that low but sufficient and stable quantity of goods and services that enable a high quality of life for all.  Yet the market is above all an arena in which players try to gain.

The alternative?

The Simpler Way view is that in the next few decades huge change will be forced upon us, due mainly to resource and ecological problems.  It is likely that there will be major breakdown.  We must therefore attempt to establish mostly small, localized, highly self-sufficient economies organized and run cooperatively by us (ordinary citizens, not states) to meet our needs.  These cannot work satisfactorily unless there is also enormous cultural change towards collective rather than competitive ways, and to satisfaction with frugal sufficiency, as distinct from affluence.  There must be no concern with gain or economic growth.  The Simpler Way view is that if we do not achieve these enormous changes we will not get through the coming time of difficulties, and it is not likely that we will achieve them.

Ideally we would achieve the transition over a twenty year period, beginning with the establishment of cooperatives etc. which start to enable us to take control over some aspects of our town or suburb, e.g., by setting up gardens and workshops to enable unemployed people to begin producing to meet needs. That is, we would begin to take away from the market the power to carry out some crucial functions affecting our welfare.

However I think it is likely that in the long distance future we would find that we prefer not to have any role for the market.  As has been argued, the market involves undesirable values and behavior, which contradict those of a nice society.  In addition I think that eventually we will find that technically we can easily make all the production, distribution and development decisions more satisfactorily through the town assemblies and committees and their monitoring etc.  Many things will need no formal attention; e.g., the supply of enough perfect tomatoes will be settled by a little thought about whether we grew enough last year.  Many things will look after themselves most of the time and only need a little attention now and then, e.g., when the town baker decides to take up carpentry instead. 

Note the crucial assumptions here, making this vision more workable; it would be a greatly simplified and very different economy, citizens eager to monitor, research, feedback, organise and find the best arrangements for the town, and people would realize there would be no point in this situation in competing, or getting rich or striving for economic growth.  Yes that assumes a very different culture, but thatŐs essential; we canŐt achieve a satisfactory society unless there is radical change from some of the values that drive this one.