Commons, Market, Capital and State (4): a critique of free market ideology

Dmytri Kleiner, a German mutualist activist, who recently published a Telekommunisten Manifesto, argues a free market is impossible under capitalist conditions:

“Capitalism depends on the appropriation of value for its subsistence and growth. The disingenuous rhetoric of the “Free Market” is a smoke screen to justify a system of privilege and exploitation, better called the “Casino Market,” there are certainly some conspicuous winners, but the odds always favour the house. Any organised attempt to beat the odds will be excluded, perhaps violently. In a genuine free market, competition among producers would reduce the price of everything to the lowest level that it can be produced for. If everything truly traded in a perfect “market,” then land and capital, like labour would never be able to earn any more than the cost of providing it. There could be no class that is exempt from working as there would be no income to sustain such a class. For a Capitalist class to exist, the market must be rigged, and all markets are. Capitalism must increase the price of Capital by withholding it from labour. In reality, the “free market” is what property owners want to impose on workers, while retaining their own privileges. Capital needs to make the price of labour low enough to prevent workers, as a class, from being able to retain enough of their own earnings to acquire their own property. If workers could acquire their own property, they could also stop selling their labour to the capitalists. Capitalism could not exist in a free market. The whole idea of the “free market” is part of the mythology of capitalism, is not possible within capitalism and just as unlikely to exist without it. “Free” from the coercion of profit-seeking Capitalists, producers would produce for social value, not for profits, as they do in their private and family lives, and as they have in non-capitalist communities. This is not to say that a free society would not have competition or that it’s members would not seek to benefit from their own labour, the division of labour required in a complex society implies exchange and reciprocity. However the metaphor of “the market” as it is currently used would no longer dominate. The “Market Economy” is by definition a surveillance economy, where contributions to production and consumption must be measured in minute detail, it is an economy of accountants and security guards. The need to account value exchange in tiny and reductive lists of individually priced transactions must be superseded by more fluid and generalized forms of exchange. The motive to maximize profit from ownership, so often the driving force behind irrational and destructive production, would give way to much stronger motive, doing work that has direct benefits for our lives and our society, production that fulfills our real world needs and desires. Without the need to measure our consumption and production to appease the imposers of capitalist control, workers in a free society may not bother producing exclusively for exchange within a “Market Economy,” they may more often produce what they want and what their community needs and share based on mutual respect. This type of economy does not resemble a “market.” A market is not a free space. Control of the physical location of the market has always been the domain of hierarchy and authority, and proximity to the market is the textbook example of unearned income; economic rent. The Market stall is a physical manifestation of the division between producer and consumer. None of these seem like essential characteristics of a free society. Instead of an idealised and impossible “Free Market,” a workers economy would be better imagined as a “Network Economy,” where independent participants exchange according their mutual desires within the context of a common platform, not centrally controlled by any of them, but composed of their own voluntary interconnections.”

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