Markets: Unanimity Without Uniformity

I Voted!

The market process is unique from a genuine democratic political process in that a market tends to promote unanimous decisions but not necessarily conformity. Everybody can make his or her choice of preferred ice cream, for example; but it would be hard to conceive that everyone would prefer the same flavor. The choice is unanimous (everyone agrees to his or her own decision), which will often be different from other people’s decisions. A market process allows for obscure opinions to prosper while not suppressing more popular ones.

Because some people aren’t expected to always make proper decisions (typically based on some impossible standard), critics of the market system point out that the proper decisions — presumably their own — cannot be implemented thoroughly enough without some measure of compulsion.

If that’s the case, if we can’t be confident in the decisions people make for themselves, why should we be any more confident in the decisions those same people make on behalf of others, like which politicians to elect or ballot measures to approve, when a voter’s decisions will have little to no effect on the actual outcome of these group decisions. With the scope of government so expansive, how do elected officials discern whether voters support their policies or just dislike their opponents’ even more?

I suppose that critics could answer that they support a well regulated political process with campaign finance controls and such that encourage voters to make more informed decisions. But that just pushes the question back one step further. How can we be confident in the decisions the voters would make when each voter has little incentive to make an informed decision on which controls on the political process to implement?

What detractors of the market process should understanding is that information is not costless, and we should be cautious of applying superior mental faculties to politicians and government administrators.

I’m a supporter of democracy but nevertheless think the democratic process should be limited in scope if it’s going to function properly. Granted, people are not perfect, so neither are markets, but there is little reason is there to think a democracy would generally perform better or to have more confidence in it.

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2 thoughts on “Markets: Unanimity Without Uniformity”

  1. It actually comes as a surprise to me that you’re a supporter of democracy. I support democracy, but with the understanding that by democracy, I mean not (necessarily) majority rule, but control from the bottom up. I don’t think markets really meet that criterion, mystical talk of emergent orders notwithstanding. If there’s to be voting involved, I’d rather it be one-person-one-vote than one-share-one-vote or one-dollar-one-vote.

    1. Thanks for the input!

      I agree that democracy is more than mere majoritarianism. Bottom-up control is a pretty good way to think of it.

      To me, democracy means that people be free to act on their genuine convictions, so they need some assurance that they won’t be retaliated against for speaking their mind. In a government context, I think that means restraining the government (or anyone else, for that matter) from violating other people’s rights. I hope that makes sense.

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