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Choosing to Be Part of the Global Market Economy

In my latest column for AIER I offer some evidence that people who are explicitly confronted with the ability to make an active, conscious choice to join the global market economy or remain ‘protected’ from this economy’s risks, overwhelmingly choose to join the global market economy. A slice (link added):

More than a few people have challenged my claim of voluntary participation in the global economy. But I stand by this claim.

Later in the paper I argue:

No one is forced to participate [in the market economy]. Each of us has the option of withdrawing from commercial society, as a tiny handful of people have actually done. A great deal of rural land is available for purchase. Each of us is free to buy this land on which we can scratch out a living, either literally alone or with whatever small band of individuals we persuade to accompany us.

Of course, the resulting material standard of living of economically isolated individuals would be desperately low compared to the standard of living available even to the poorest of those who participate in the modern commercial economy. Indeed, the colossal difference between the maximum standard of living achievable by those who divorce themselves from modernity and the minimum standard of living available to those who remain integrated into modernity is what makes my claim that it is possible to abandon commercial society seem so far-fetched.

Again, I stand by this claim. Yet I understand why many people continue to doubt its realism: we Americans and Europeans today almost never observe anyone actually opting out of commercial society. How realistic is this option if no one takes it?

But in reading Michael Shellenberger’s 2020 book, Apocalypse Never, I ran across some real-world evidence of the validity of my claim. In discussing his work as a young man in the 1990s in Brazil, Shellenberger writes:

I can count on a single hand the number of young people who told me they wanted to remain on their family’s farm and work their parents’ land. The large majority of young people wanted to go to the city, get an education, and get a job. They wanted a better life than what low-yield peasant farming could provide.

When confronted more explicitly and consciously than we Americans are with the choice of avoiding, or embracing, the particular kinds of risks that are inseparable from participation in a global market economy, most people choose to embrace these risks. People who have actually experienced the ‘security’ that comes from insulation from market forces understand that the price they pay for this ‘security’ is far too high. That price includes the inability to enjoy goods and services that we in America today regard as indispensable – goods and services such as indoor plumbing, plentiful food, shelter that’s sturdy and spacious, antibiotics, and motorized transportation. This price includes also the greater insecurity to life and limb that curses all who have no access to these goods and services.

People who have actually had the ready opportunity to ‘protect’ themselves from the global market economy understand that the fruits of that economy are far more abundant and sweet than is the pathetic ‘security’ that comes from being sheltered from global market forces. Overwhelmingly, and not merely by default, these people choose to be part of the global market economy. The fact that Americans and Europeans make this choice as a matter of course without really thinking about it does not mean that we don’t really have such a choice. We do. We just choose to continue to position ourselves to reap the fruits of the global market economy. And therefore, each of us must be willing to pay the relatively small price of participating in this economy.

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