Left wing critics of market economics talk about markets as if they were just a small overpaid bunch of bond and currency traders they do not like. Markets are places for us all. The large financial and banking markets are used by almost everyone. Let him who has no hedge fund to back his pension or no financial product to power his charity throw the first stone.
The Trade Union which criticises the market often has an investment fund invested in bonds and shares. The Trade Union official who condemns a market oriented approach will often have an invested pension pot, a mortgage, a credit card and a range of other financial products. The vicar who dislikes global capitalism enjoys money from funds managed by the Church Commissioners. Unlikely people can have pensions and savings tied up in hedge funds, managed futures and other portfolios using futures, options and geared financial instruments.
The market serves poor and rich alike. One person’s money is as good as another’s: there is no discrimination. The divergences in choice and lifestyle come from differences in access to funds, not from differences of other treatment.
A late friend of mine used to host guests from the USSR visiting London in the days of communism. The people allowed to visit were trusted communists. He would take them to Marks and Spencers on Baker Street. They would be bowled over by the range and quality of the products compared to Moscow stores of the time. They would ask if this great shop was reserved for party members or members of various elites. They would be suprised to be told M and S was for everyone.
My friend would then take them to Harrods. He would say this is where many of the elite shop. They were even more impressed. They were surprised to learn that no regulation stopped the unemployed or the former criminal shopping at Harrods, just as nothing stops the billionaire buying at M and S. The western retail market was much freer and more democratic than their soviet controlled shops.
The main argument against capitalism in western democracies is it can leave some people behind, with too little or no income. The great western democracies have moved to tackle this by offering financial help to those who might otherwise get left behind. Anyone with some money can use it to buy whatever they like whenever they like, as long as they can afford it or can borrow to buy it. Countries that have tried to replace the market by state planning, allocating goods to individuals and families, have usually created lower living standards as well as greatly restricting personal freedoms.
The market place is the ultimate democracy. Individuals can express their preferences or offer their services whenever they like. Only in a state planned system do they have to combat rationing, quotas, and form filling as well as facing the threat of criminal penalties if they abuse the system.
Democracy understands how outcast people can feel in a wealthy market economy if they have little or no money. That is why all mainstream political parties agree with some redistribution of income and wealth, and all agree with financial assistance to those who cannot provide for themselves. The political debate should not be about the superiority of the enterprise system, or about the desirability of taking care of those who cannot provide for themselves. The debate should be the narrower one of how generous should we be to those who need state support, and how should people qualify for it?