Home Class Politics The Bit About Markets That George Monbiot Doesn't Get

The Bit About Markets That George Monbiot Doesn’t Get



We’ve George Monbiot with his usual demand that everything – or at least everything that can be – decided at local level. I agree and so does my vast army of neoliberal globalisers who have been running the planet for the past 40 years. The difference between George and my homies being that we really believe it while he’s just playing the dilettante:

The question that divides left from right should no longer be “how big is the state?”, but “to whom should its powers be devolved?”

Yep, fine, I’ll take that as a differentiation. And it’s one in which the neoliberals, the marketeers, have it right. For power should be devolved to the individual or course, not the collective.

Boris Johnson recited the standard Tory mantra: “The state must stand back and let the private sector get on with it.” But what he will never do is stand back and let the people get on with it.

For the market is the people getting on with it.

Instead, he gives power away to a thing he calls “the market”, which is a euphemism for the power of private money.

No so much a euphemism and not so much about money either. Bebo, MySpace and Facebook all cost consumers exactly the same and consumer choice, one person by one person, did rather change matters for the three of them.

This power is concentrated in a small number of hands.

No, the entire point is that each consumer has the power of their consumption.

We need a state that is strong in some respects. We need a robust economic safety net, excellent public services and powerful public protections.

We can argue about how deep that safety net is, what should be a public service and even what should be protected but yes, as a statement of general intent rather than filling in all the details that’s fine.

But much of what the state imposes are decisions we could better make ourselves.

That is rather the marketeers’ point.

No Conservative government has shown any interest in devolving genuine power to the people, by enabling, for example, a constitutional convention, participatory budgeting, community development, the democratisation of the planning system or any other meaningful role in decision-making during the five years between elections.

By returning decision making to individuals exactly that is done, the devolution of power.

Think on it a moment. The UK currently has some 1200 breweries producing some 8,000 different beers. Some of those beers are dreadful, a few are superlative, most get the job done. That variety is brought to you by that weird combination of capitalism and markets. We each, as individuals, get to consume the beer that most closely meets our desires at the time and place of our consuming it.

Pretty good system hunh? And one that cannot be reached by any form of government planning. Or direction. Nor will participatory democracy get us to that point. The Good Burghers of Bath have to get together and decide who will run a brewery, what it will make, using which ingredients and Abbey Ales will never come into existence. Leave people be with market and capitalist incentives and it does.

Which system has just devolved power the most? Those markets. Which is why we neoliberal globalisation fanatics are so in favour of them – precisely so that individuals get to decide their own lives.



  1. Five years between elections? What country does he live in? We have elections every two years where I live, and *every* year where I used to live.
    Demanding democratisation of planning? I am currently a democratically elected member of a Planning Board.
    Participatory budgeting? I’m Chair of Finance, and I can’t remember anybody ever turning up to participate in decision making. We have a specific item on the agenda for anybody to turn up and propose stuff. Nobody ever comes. We have to spend our own time going out and chatting with people to ask them.

  2. In the UK, over fifty million people vote every day, usually several times a day, using their wallets. That’s democracy in action. Even politicians, who can all too easily be bought, are subject to market forces.


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