Could Intentional Marketplaces Work For Everyone?

A truly free marketplace - simple though it might seem - is nonetheless a mystery and even somewhat of a paradox. If only the marketplace could be completely "left alone" - so we hear - capitalism would "work as advertised" and economies would prosper! However, the ongoing request to leave the marketplace as one "found" it, is misleading. People who "stand" for free markets and purport to represent the average citizen, still travel to Washington routinely. What's more, many of those trips are to change today's game board, on behalf of who the traveler represents.

Many who decry central planning, intend to keep "planning away" behind the scenes just the same. Except there's just one problem. Planning for oneself from the sidelines (government did it! Not me!) becomes one size fits all planning in the main, in spite of wide variances in income capacity. Which means more people have to try to fit square pegs into the round holes of how life is "supposed" to be lived. It also means increasing economic gridlock, which makes populations reluctant to extend a helping hand to those who have not already "arrived".

While progressives continue to lose ground, some conservatives continue to make life more difficult even for one another - tightening the monetary noose further as they go. People who are expected to be responsible citizens, struggle to remain so. Monetary policy has lagged in terms of maintaining economic stability, and societal judgments regarding failures can be swift and deep. These are just some of the more important issues that an intentional marketplace - one including the active participation of most citizens - would seek to address.

On a regular basis, people wake up to new rules and regulations which are haphazardly thrown together with little rhyme or reason. What's more, of the policymakers who agree to new laws, many of them know little more than the public what those new "plans" entail. And yet many of the same institutions which insist our lives would be better with less government or centralization, are the ones that are creating more centralization with government's approval. Freedom of social and economic interaction for who, exactly? On what terms and conditions?

If government isn't doing the primary planning for economic participation and access, who or what is? How is anyone really supposed to coordinate or make sense of these results? Ad hoc "planning" based on power games is no way to maintain cohesive visions for the future. Yet no one is naive enough to expect lobbyists to disappear, unless there really are better ways to get things done. We know that the rules tend to be "needlessly" complex. And yet this lack of transparency is what allows the prime beneficiaries and actors to remain either unobserved or misunderstood. In particular, the role of skills use time as private property is woefully underrepresented in the present. Intentional marketplaces would seek to define knowledge use as wealth in its own right, so that real growth can return to the global marketplace.

All discussions of cronyism aside, knocking down the most recent batch of cronies generally leads to the installment of the next batch. It's easy and natural to fall into the comfortable role of protecting one's own. That's especially true, when too few means exist to protect the role of exchange as a mechanism for inclusion. But when the cronies want lower income levels to increase their (financial) level of responsibility for the system itself - yet there's little means left for lower income levels to do so, the structure itself needs to change.

The 20th century was a time when knowledge grew and flourished. But knowledge never gained its own garden from which it could be harvested: hence it has slowly gained a reputation as a "weed" and a nuisance. In order to prosper for long periods, every society needs to preserve marketplace pathways for services and knowledge use. However, understandable roles for coordination are needed in order to make that happen - both in monetary and knowledge use terms. Neither government nor private interests to date, have had the incentive to provide more open marketplace mechanisms for the public. As a consequence, both were able to pluck the focused (let alone invested) cultivation of knowledge from other gardens at random, strictly on an as needed basis.

Hence when citizens who don't represent governments (or other existing institutions) propose societal coordination of markets to maintain prosperity, such efforts can readily be mistaken by present interests as either central planning, needless intervention, or both. How does one bring desirable elements of economic freedom and stability to life, for entire populations? Especially when both governments and special interests either find it too tempting to claim those options for themselves, or dismiss them entirely.

People are often led to believe that freedom and prosperity would be an automatic given: "if only" governments were either smaller or in some instances, even larger. But the size of government is no indicator, as to the existence of broader coordinating mechanisms or inherent stability. Broader governmental decision making processes can be readily overcome, when the economic experience becomes tightly defined in exclusive terms. That is one reason why fiscal measures have become difficult to utilize, in regards to social cohesion and stability.

That is especially true, for any complex society which needs to consider moving and fixed components of economic activity in the same context. Only consider arguments regarding the tyranny of the majority, which are resurfacing as worldwide growth has slowed. Some now question democracy itself, and insist that the masses make too many demands on the relatively few holders of extensive wealth. While those arguments can be persuasive in some respects, they are unfortunately used to misrepresent the realities that people experience. Democracy is not so much what stands in the way of prosperity now, as the roadblocks which many private interests set up against one another over time - piece by piece - with the help of their governments.

Admittedly, when I speak of freedom, I do so from the pragmatic context of economic freedom which makes social freedom possible as well. No freedom - or economic stability for that matter - is really possible, unless societies provide pathways that allow people to remain economically connected for the full course of their lives. After all, this is what was necessary for anyone to provide for oneself, before the modern era. To that end, societies can coordinate intentional marketplaces which not only provide adequate space for their participants, but also the fullest range of knowledge and skills use possible. Indeed, a primary goal of any complex society until recently was to seek continued growth of knowledge use as a means to wealth. Maintaining this goal is especially important, as other means to wealth receive less emphasis in some business cycles.

Flexibility is key, in that resource availability invariably changes over time. Needed adjustments, however, can be difficult to discern or implement. Thus flexibility is especially important, in societies which unwittingly utilize democracy to create specific economic agendas on one size fits all terms. Governments need to allow various groups to create economic "subsidiary options" in accordance with their income and motivational capacities, instead of insisting that all operate according to how those in power wish to live. Invariably when people decide on the single "way", whatever that way is, it seems they spend the rest of eternity trying to determine how to eject or otherwise punish those who don't fit.

Intentional marketplaces would not dictate how people engage in economic activity. Rather, they would seek to provide frameworks in which people have numerous options as to how they might do so. To be sure, there would still be limitations in both choice and provision. But the fact that such limitations would largely occur in terms of either accepted or unaccepted skills sets, would allow individuals to bring their own personal identities back into the economic framework. And more than anything, it is the missing element of identity which has taken away the larger vision as to how economies can proceed. Perhaps the reintegration of identity and personal meaning, would be among the most fulfilling challenges of the intentional marketplace.

A certain amount of planning is inevitable and desirable, for people to get along with one another in any environment. However, it needs to be transparent and of a nature that does not detract from the ability to freely participate in both economic and social contexts. It needs ongoing flexibility as to local context and definition, so that people can reasonably expect to be able to work with others who elect to live in similar settings. Such settings always need to be open to outsiders so that they do not harden and become too different from the environments which surround them. Planning always needs to be able to account for - and adjust to - changes in both resource options and differences in income capacity. Otherwise, nations eventually give up on democracies, only to substitute the kinds of one size fits all planning that no one is allowed to question.

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