We live in a mostly unmanaged economy. That is to say that it is mostly laissez-faire, a policy or attitude of letting things take their own course, without interfering. In general supply and demand tend to balance. If not, then either the supply is reduced or increased to find the balance point. With items that are not necessities, this is fine. It’s self-regulating and it doesn’t really matter if it goes out of balance for a while. But there are problems with this. Although we certainly don’t want a totally managed economy, I’d like to point out some of the problems.
In our system, if an individual initiates a practice that is the absolutely the worst in terms of people’s or the ecology’s health, and starts making money by that practice, it immediately becomes sociologically and economically sacred. As in “What would those poor people do for a living if that were not allowed?” It matters not that we did not care about those people before they started participating in the unhealthy practice.
Practices that do affect health and necessities adversely, both of people and the overall human environment, should never be completely uncontrolled. The mistake we make when trying to disallow bad practices is that we totally ignore the problem of, “What would those poor people do for a living if that were not allowed?” For that matter, we ignore that problem when the “bad” practice replaces a “good” practice. We ignored people’s fate when we limited logging, particularly clear cutting. We are now doing it again with respect to reducing our dependence on coal. If we are going to wipe out entire ways of life and communities, I think it behooves us to provide an alternative so that those communities don’t collapse. But laissez-faire just lets boom and bust happen.
For generations we have ignored the problems caused by policies and practices that cause bust in some communities and booms in others. The people who are thrown out of work in one place, by relocating the work, usually don’t have the resources to move to the work. This happens over and over when government contracts are re-awarded to new corporations in a different part of the country. When a significant portion of a community is affected, the community assets, houses, land, etc., are reduced in value. Then everyone suffers.
Virtually no doctrine is always best in human terms. Purists allow themselves to be trapped. Milton Friedman’s endorsement of free market capitalism and deregulation has always clashed with the Keynesian practice of spending to get out of an economic hole. That practice has almost always worked, yet it can be overdone too. The focus must be on people. Pulling the support rug out from under people whom we have allowed and encouraged to depend on it is fundamentally wrong. We need to work harder at setting up the dominos so that, when they fall, they help rather than hurt. It’s not easy. Most of the people we elect take the easy doctrinaire way. They have virtually no creativity.
I think the question is this: Do we, humans, want to have a society and economy in which just about everyone can find a way to fulfill his or her basic needs? Or do we want a society and economy in which a small fraction of people have enough to fulfill their basic needs a thousand times over and many starve and are homeless with no viable alternative?