Friday, June 27, 2008

on economics

There are some who insist that supply and demand are equivalent to (or, indeed, are) laws of nature*, and if we try to function apart from them or work against them we invite disaster.

Which seems to me rather like saying that it is a crime against nature to keep my computer and books on my desk because it works against gravity.

My desk certainly accounts for gravity, but that is different than saying that gravity is an inviolable force, the full force of which I resist at my peril.

It seems to me that even if supply and demand are 'natural' - bearing in mind that supply and demand do not necessarily imply a free market, and a free market does not imply capitalism - it still describes an arena of human activity (and in that way less 'natural' than gravity) and hence subject to moral/ethical analysis. There might well be some things which, for the sake of humanity, we decide cannot be left to the vagaries of supply and demand: labour cost, for example, as in fair trade. 

To make supply and demand - and more broadly, the market - out of the realm of moral/ethical analysis allows for a huge segment of human activity to be bracketed from thinking, which seems dangerous and irresponsible to me. Among other things, it allows profits, and the means of gaining them, to be considered amoral.

It is also interesting, by the way, that for most things, demand is a controllable variable (not, presumably, for the utter basics such as food, water, shelter - but that is a small percentage of overall production).

* Part of what this points out is the vacuity of (most) talk of the 'natural'.

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