Myths and Realities of the Free Market

excerpted from the book

Against the Conventional Wisdom

by Douglas Dowd

WestviewPress, 1997


U.S. Democracy, Ltd.

We live in the most capitalist of all societies. Naturally, then, only an embattled minority has resisted what was earlier called the commodification of everything. Nonetheless, this minority has won many a battle since the 1930s, limited in scope and durability though they may have been: battles to hold down and cushion unemployment and poverty; to diminish repression and discrimination of all sorts; to render work conditions safer; to provide health care, pensions, paid vacations, and better housing and education for many-though by no means all; to protect our health and our environment from ecological recklessness; to enhance economic stability.

Though seldom seen as such by those of us in that embattled minority, such battles were part of a larger war. The issue was to identify the areas of daily existence that had to be exempted from the "law of supply and demand" and protected from the market, areas requiring sociopolitical interventions. If the areas of human, economic, social, and environmental fragility had not been exempted, the costs would have become intolerable- as in many ways they long have been.

Over a period of about forty years some of that territory was won, but never secured. Apart from a political moment now and then, we lacked solidarity; we functioned too much as individualistic groups. At our best we were tactically astute. But we always lacked a strategy, there not being a unified movement that could develop and sustain a strategy. That lack was an explicable outcome of U.S. history, and virtually unique in the industrial capitalist world.

Since the 1960s, in part prompted by our successes, the economically powerful and politically reactionary have steadily built an imposing political force. They are supported by groups with diverse social, political, and economic agendas; many of the members of those groups are beneficiaries of the very achievements now under siege. The movement to the right has already chipped away at many of our gains; now relentlessly it tries to return our socio-economy to the free market ideology and practices of a century ago, with all their brutality and social foolhardiness.

Giant companies already dominated the industrial economy in the 1920s, but they were small and weak and naive when compared with the super TNCs of the present. The latter now dominate not just industry but also the services (including finance, advertising, and health care) and agriculture. More to the point, their concentrated economic power is enhanced by their ability through the media (also tightly owned and controlled) to "manage minds" for both commercial and political purposes; and the generous sums they pay lobbyists to initiate and prevent legislation are of course tax deductible...


Against the Conventional Wisdom