An axiom of liberal democracy is that the more open the system the more choices there are within the system. A market for widgets, if it is an open market, will have the maximum number of widget makers and widget suppliers. The marketplace of ideas, if it is open to all, will have the full range of ideas. Similarly, as long as the demand side is unrestricted, the full spectrum of demand will be represented. Every widget buyer will have the chance to demand his type of widget.
This is the starting point for modern societies. It is no longer a point to be debated and certainly not questioned. This is obvious in the non-debate over tech censorship. Any effort to discuss what is going on with companies like Google and Twitter is met with a wall of sound about the sanctity of private firms operating in the market. “Build your own platform” has become the top single in the amen chorus. The marketplace is now a god that provides what the people need and deserve.
In theory, the chorus should be right. If everyone who wants to make widgets is allowed to make widgets, then there should be a widget maker for every type of widget demanded by the public, assuming the widget can be produced at a profit. Even people wanting free widgets could be supplied by charity. Outside of the extremes, if there is a way to make a profit by meeting even the most bizarre demands for a product or service, someone will find a way to meet that demand.
Something similar should happen in public discourse. If the public space is open, then everyone can present their ideas. If everyone is free to listen, or not listen, to those ideas being offered up, the marketplace should develop in the same way as it should with a product or a service. The insane ideas will have a small audience, while the sensible ideas will gain a larger audience. The marketplace of ideas will sort and stack the ideas on offer based on the preferences of the audience.
This is a bit redundant, but it is important to think about this axiom of liberal democracy while considering current reality. If the market place for goods and services functioned as believed, then we would have more than two mobile phone makers. There would be more than one search engine. We would have lots of small car makers, rather than a handful of global operators. In fact, General Motors should have gone out of business decades ago based on market principles.
In the realm of ideas, we should have a dozen political parties flourishing to one degree or another at the state and national level. For example, there is no obvious reason why there should not be political parties that operate just as the state level. According to the axioms of liberal democracy, there should be state parties that focus just on state and local issues, maybe operating as a feeder to a national party. Yet, we have just two parties that are really just two faces of a single party.
It is a paradox of markets that the internal dynamic of the market leads to fewer choices and maybe even no choice. Take the desktop computer market, for example. The only choice is the color and the label of the Chinese slave camp that produced it. Inside, the parts all come from the same source. Alternatives to the standard PC are fringe options that exist for hobbyists and weirdos. You see this everywhere you look around the marketplace. Our markets are oligopolies now.
It goes beyond market consolidation. Another aspect of this is that as some dominant players emerge, they begin to insulate themselves from demand. In fact, it is possible that the quest for market domination is actually an effort to insulate the supplier from the pressures of the marketplace. The players initially experiencing success shift from competing for clients to competing to wall off their share of demand in order to prevent others from competing for that market share.
You see this with sports. The NASCAR phenomenon is assumed to be driven by the edicts of this weird new religion that has gripped the great and good. That may be one aspect of it, maybe even the primary aspect, but there also seems to be a desire to get rid of their own audience. That is, NASCAR would be fine with not having a live crowd and depending entirely on television money. Then they no longer have to be responsive to the demands of the customers.
The temptation here is to say that the fans will not watch, but in the realm of television these days, ratings matter very little. ESPN, for example, gets the bulk of its revenue from mandatory cable fees. If you have a TV sub through the local cable monopoly or a service like Hulu, you pay ESPN eight dollars per month. It does not matter if you watch, you pay the fee. All cable channels work off this model. Once again, the glory of the market place is to result in a monopoly and no market.
This dynamic where the dominant suppliers seek to eradicate the demand side is evident in politics. Both faces of the uniparty are now onboard with vote by mail, for example, which eliminates the pesky demands of the voters. This form of voting makes for unlimited fraud, so we will end up with Stalin’s maxim. “It’s not the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes.” Since picking one party or the other has no effect on policy, voting will soon be entirely ceremonial.
It is always tempting to confuse a paradox with a contradiction. Critics of modern capitalism, for example, will claim that the oligarchs are not really capitalist in the free market sense. They are corrupting the system. Similarly, people will claim that the problem with politics is that a small group of highly corrupt people are subverting the democratic system. In other words, the axioms of the market place are true, it’s just that the current systems are not adhering to them.
The trouble with this line of reasoning is it suggests that the marketplace itself selects for the sorts of people who seek to subvert the marketplace. Everywhere we look, the great experiment in open markets has had the same result. Whether it is finance, technology, ideas or politics, the result is small club that controls everything, not only to their exclusive benefit, but to the detriment of the people they allegedly serve. It is almost as if the market selects for sadists who despise their customers.
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