Welcome to the Imagined Economy blog, a way to keep on top of some of the things we’re thinking about and talking about between the release of reports or publications. Usually, the things we’re thinking about have to do with the “economic imaginary,” those explicit attempts to visualize and even create an economy better than the one we have.
Of course, the economy we have is capitalist, something most people understand intuitively but less frequently define. By definition, capitalism is a set of institutions and practices that structure production and consumption in the society. Its central organizing principle is private ownership with enterprise to yield persistent gains and enrichment for owners. Land and labor are made commodities bought and sold on the market with money, as are the products and services consumed. Workers do not control how they work or what they produce and, likewise, consumers acquire products with limited or no information about production processes, safety and effectiveness, or environmental impact. As such, workers and consumers operate at a disadvantage, with some modicum of protection offered by an “invisible hand” wiping out irresponsible owners (perhaps) but more importantly by a social state with authority to regulate enterprise, provide insurance and assistance, and grant collective bargaining rights.
The advance of global capitalism beginning in the 1970s saw growing delegitimization of the social state in the United States. By the 1990s, the national and state governments had pared down the U.S. social state considerably, leaving instead a “neoliberal capitalism” granting corporate actors more control over the rules and institutions meant to curb their excesses as well as a welfare state “contracted out” to the private and charitable sectors. The Great Recession of 2008 made poignant the difficulties of neoliberal capitalism with popular discontent mobilized on both the right and the left. The right has directed its frustration and outrage mostly at the social state and the left at the market. Meanwhile, human suffering and planetary destruction continue on at the same time that the historical answer- expand the social state- is not readily available.
The left can and should continue to urge government spending, regulation, and reunionization as these are all parts of the solution to the problems of inequality, exploitation, protracted poverty, and environmental degradation as deep as we face. However, political realities are what they are, and there seems value in working through the puzzle and practicalities of market change. Check the blog for writing and thinking out loud on interesting models, experiments, and novel ideas about market change that we encounter out there in the world.