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December 12, 2006


Phil E

What is it about the 'market' that the traditional Left has been against in recent times?

Probably the fact that the institutions of the 'free market' are founded on capital accumulation and the extraction of value from wage labour; to put it another way, 'market' implies 'labour market'. As somebody (Raymond Williams?) said, the market sounds friendly and empowering when you think of it in terms of apples and herring - but as a worker you're the herring, not the buyer.

Will Davies

Ah, yes, that is indeed the answer... or at least, the Marxist answer. Good point.

I guess I was thinking more in terms of the social democratic left, or the general cultural critique of the market as a soul-less place which destroys community, alienates us, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing etc. Because the modernist response might well be: good, give me New York over Axminister any day of the week.


The problem with the general cultural critique is that that's all it is - a critique that doesn't lead anywhere. I suppose that this critique is probably part of a hangover from postwar radicalism, which saw the rise of the community society as a source of false consciousness, or part of a society of spectacle that deflected the working classes from realising their revolutionary destiny.

Apart from being deeply patronising, it's a critique that ignores the obvious benefits and pleasures of the market - increasing opportunity for self-creation, the fact that shopping can be (whisper it) fun, the fact that 'the market' appears to be a very effective form of wealth creation (but not distribution). Those have to be weighed against the market's undoubted negatives.

I've yet to see a coherent leftist plan for an alternative to the market. But I wonder if the market isn't creating that alternative itself. The rise of pro-am producers, social production, knowlede work and collborative lifestyles, combined with a concern for authenticity and values, could point the way towards some sort of return to knowledge-based cottage industry. At least, the think tank work in sometimes feels a bit like that.

Perhaps too optimistic and petit bourgeois - and certainly it raises the question of what happens to the people who are outside the cottages - can we include them in mutual support mechanisms based around knowledge work (what about a return to paternalism with knowledge firms voluntarily supporting the cleaners?


> sickly tones of petit bourgeois conservatism

Indeed, Fearnley Whittingstall is
- posh
- double barrelled
But there's nothing sickly about him. He radiates health, energy, enthusiasm, passion about the origin and quality of food. There's an earthy courage in how he goes about his work which is the antithesis of the bullying supermarket buyer.

What leads you to complain about his voice being heard? What would concern you about him offering other produce in competition with Tesco?

Will Davies

Apologies - as a posh person myself, my comment was not some piece of inverted snobbery. 'Petit bourgeois' is a specific social category of business people who attempt to conserve some pre-capitalist idyll, but still seek to become reasonably wealthy. The reason this often appears sickly is that it has a strong element of NIMBYism. Rather like the New Urbanist movement (Poundbury etc), it turns its back on the reality of the industrial age in order to create miniature zones of peace and harmony, which must by virtue of their scale remain exclusive. I guess I'm lumping him together with that sort of thing - maybe I've got the wrong end of the stick with him, as I don't know a great deal about his philosophy.

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