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Capitalism, the Market, the ‘Underclass,’’ and the Future by Barry Schwartz in Nov/Dec1999 Society pp.33-42

“I would like to give her more. I would like to promise her that she will grow up with a sense of her cousins and of rivers and of her great-grand mother’s teacups, would like to pledge her a picnic on a river with fried chicken and her hair uncombed, would like to give her HOME for her birthday, but we live differently... I give her a xylophone and a sundress[.]”

--Joan Didion


Enough good ideas exist in Barry Schwartz’s works to make one good book. That book, unfortunately, does not exist, but this article does. Not only do power markets increase selfishness, Schwartz argues, they emphasize short-term selfishness. Has anyone heard an argument that oil extractors should be given subsidized oil in public land, but not right now because future generations will need the oil more and will benefit from the oil more? Trash culture values are power market values. Nike harmed individual moral development more than Richard Rorty. Marketers sell conscious and unconscious ideals as well as products. Power market promotion of novelty and diversion damages commitments to worthy endeavors.


Most individuals journey through their lives without taking college classes from relativists, yet individuals absorb millions of messages from the mass media. Almost no school warns about the destruction wrought by credit card debts. Gambling and over consumption of legal drugs gets little attention from schools.


Every totalitarian ideology encourages free riding, including power markets. Trickery and threats of punishment by powerful individuals become methods of keeping the peace and maintaining the status quo. Thinking primarily of economic costs and benefits to the self, has hidden costs, especially in moral actions and reasoning.


The “everybody does it” and “I have to do it” excuses proliferate. A Gresham’s Law of Power Markets operates: Immoral actions drive out moral actions. Milton Friedman’s command that profit outweighs all else becomes both a legal and moral imperative for marketers. Studies suggest that most CEOs and MBA students believe almost anything now legal is morally just, and should stay legal, except laws that violate power market ideology. Most of us are capitalists. We should ask what types of capitalists should we be, and what do power markets do to us?


For markets to work, individuals must possess numerous other traits. Many possessing these traits, however, labor to produce products that destroy these traits in their more manipulable fellow citizens, including thrift and indoustriousness.



Gangs and warlords seize capital by predation, but so do power markets, including from parents, children, non-wealthy workers, and the unborn, requiring adherence to contracts never agreed to, including federal debts, trade debts, retiree benefits, and crooked international agreements.       


Many potential reasons exist why power markets decrease happiness:

·        Relentless trivia and trickery.

·        Trivial alternative overload.

·        Loss of friendships and family ties.

·        Passivity inducing products.

·        Emphasis on status.


Reasons why power markets could increase happiness also exist, however:

·        Power markets root out depressing individuals, and greater exposure to happier people might increase happiness. (For example, depressing pundits get axed while perky pretty people fill the airwaves.)

·        Groupthink: Happy people create pressure to be happy.

·        Being unhappy is equated with having a psychological problem or character defect.


Character, however, matters much more than happiness. Power markets produce less bad character than socialism, but seldom produce good character.



Article review by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 23, 2009.


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