Particular desires are universal, but universal desires are always particular

Particular desires are universal, but universal desires are always particular

Everyone has “selfish” wants, which are often very similar between individuals, creating demand for markets. For example, everyone wants food and shelter. Markets tend to satisfy those wants, at least to some degree, so people tend to appreciate markets.

However, everyone’s version of a “good society” is different. Most people are dissatisfied with how society is run now, but their visions of what a better future would look like, and how to get there, are often radically different. There is usually no “accretion of desire” like that which leads to the creation and political popularity of markets.

This situation is overturned, however, when markets fail or seem to fail. When markets are no longer meeting people’s desires, either because they stimulate desires far beyond what they can provide to the average person (i.e. when everyone starts wanting the “Hollywood” lifestyle), or in cases that markets actually fail on their own terms (falling price of labor relative to productive capacity, extreme inflation in ultra-inelastic markets where no substitute goods are available such as healthcare, etc.), then the political gravity that naturally favors markets has the potential to be upset.

The 20th century saw Communist movements take over the two largest countries in the world not because markets had failed on their own terms, but simply because they had been disrupted by war. In other words, an exogenous failure. Markets were not strong enough to avoid being destroyed in wartime. The 21st century might see something similar due to an endogenous failure of markets, due to advances in automation, monopoly capture of formerly free-market economies, etc.

I actually hope this does not happen because markets are incredible forces for good. But we who are on the pro-market side need to think about how we can give markets the appropriate political “armature” to survive both internal and external threats to their existence.


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