The Vital Difference Between a Market Economy and a Market Society

We need to step back and have a morally robust debate about where markets belong and where they don’t.  

The Vital Difference Between a Market Economy and a Market Society

It’s interesting why there hasn’t really been a debate about the role of markets in our society after the financial crisis.  It looked as though the moment was right to have such a debate; after all, there had been three decades of market faith some might even call it market triumphalism.  And then came the financial crash.  But there hasn’t really been a serious re-examination of the role of markets and money in our society. 


A market economy is a tool; it’s a valuable and effective tool for organizing productive activity.  A market society is different.  A market society is a place; it’s a way of life where market relations and market incentives and market values come to dominate all aspects of life.  And that’s my worry.  Without quite realizing it, over the past three decades, we have drifted from having a market economy to becoming a market society, a society where just about everything is up for sale.  

And the central question of the book is, do we want to live that way?  And if not, how can we decide as a society where markets serve the public good and where they don’t belong?  And I think the only way we can determine that is by having a public debate about how to value the goods and social practices that we care about and that market values may crowd out as with the love of learning in the case of reading we just talked about.  We need to debate case by case. 

Take military service.  In Iraq and Afghanistan there were more paid military contractors than there were U.S. military troops.  Now, we never had a public debate about whether we wanted to outsource the fighting of war.  But we looked up and it had happened.  Market values had come to inform some of the most fateful decisions to do with war, we see it also in education, in health, in how we deal with the environment, in the way we conceive citizenship.  

So, what I’m suggesting is that we need to step back and have a morally robust debate about where markets belong and where they don’t.  

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Fast superhighway through the Solar System discovered

Scientists find routes using arches of chaos that can lead to much faster space travel.

Arches of chaos in space manifolds.

Courtesy: Nataša Todorović, Di Wu and Aaron Rosengren/Science Advances
Surprising Science
  • Researchers discovered a route through the Solar System that can allow for much faster spacecraft travel.
  • The path takes advantage of "arches of chaos" within space manifolds.
  • The scientists think this "celestial superhighway" can help humans get to the far reaches of the galaxy.
Keep reading Show less

How Apple and Nike have branded your brain

A new episode of "Your Brain on Money" illuminates the strange world of consumer behavior and explores how brands can wreak havoc on our ability to make rational decisions.

Apple logo

Vegefox.com via Adobe Stock
  • Effective branding can not only change how you feel about a company, it can actually change how your brain is wired.
  • Our new series "Your Brain on Money," created in partnership with Million Stories, recently explored the surprising ways brands can affect our behavior.
  • Brands aren't going away. But you can make smarter decisions by slowing down and asking yourself why you're making a particular purchase.
Keep reading Show less

How Apple and Nike have branded your brain

Powerful branding can not only change how you feel about a company, it can actually change how your brain is wired.

How Apple and Nike have branded your brain
Sponsored by Singleton
  • Powerful branding can not only change how you feel about a company, it can actually change how your brain is wired.
  • "We love to think of ourselves as rational. That's not how it works," says UPenn professor Americus Reed II about our habits (both conscious and subconscious) of paying more for items based primarily on the brand name. Effective marketing causes the consumer to link brands like Apple and Nike with their own identity, and that strong attachment goes deeper than receipts.
  • Using MRI, professor and neuroscientist Michael Platt and his team were able to see this at play. When reacting to good or bad news about the brand, Samsung users didn't have positive or negative brain responses, yet they did have "reverse empathy" for bad news about Apple. Meanwhile, Apple users showed a "brain empathy response for Apple that was exactly what you'd see in the way you would respond to somebody in your family."
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast