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George Monbiot doesn’t actually understand what a market is, does he?

Summary:
George Monbiot wants to tell us all that the crisis of our times has shown that markets don’t work. Instead, there’s a grand upsurge in people indulging in voluntary cooperation: You can watch neoliberalism collapsing in real time. Governments whose mission was to shrink the state, to cut taxes and borrowing and dismantle public services, are discovering that the market forces they fetishised cannot defend us from this crisis. The theory has been tested, and almost everywhere abandoned. It may not be true that there were no atheists in the trenches, but there are no neoliberals in a pandemic. The shift is even more interesting than it first appears. Power has migrated not just from private money to the state, but from both market and state to another place altogether: the commons. All over

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George Monbiot wants to tell us all that the crisis of our times has shown that markets don’t work. Instead, there’s a grand upsurge in people indulging in voluntary cooperation:

You can watch neoliberalism collapsing in real time. Governments whose mission was to shrink the state, to cut taxes and borrowing and dismantle public services, are discovering that the market forces they fetishised cannot defend us from this crisis. The theory has been tested, and almost everywhere abandoned. It may not be true that there were no atheists in the trenches, but there are no neoliberals in a pandemic.

The shift is even more interesting than it first appears. Power has migrated not just from private money to the state, but from both market and state to another place altogether: the commons. All over the world, communities have mobilised where governments have failed.

That’s what the commons, communalism, is, voluntary cooperation. That’s what a market is too, voluntary cooperation.

It’s entirely true that cooperation mediated by money allows transactions with strangers, that the more communal form is necessarily limited to those known. But money is only the token of reciprocation at this level of the analysis - and try existing in a communal system without reciprocating for any length of time. You’ll be somewhere between shunned and an outcast in short order, possibly faster than someone known for not paying in a monetised economy.

To use the favourite journalistic example - given the trade’s experience of the places - the pub. The transaction with the bartender is voluntary and mediated by money. Whose round it is is entirely reciprocal and not mediated by mere cash. Yet the accounting is tracked just as eagerly and the failure to reciprocate - either to pay the landlord or to return the round - noted and the future flow of beer restricted for it.

That commons is a market just one using a non-money transaction form of accounting. How could it be otherwise when a market is the sum of voluntary transactions and communalism is a series of voluntary transactions?

At which point we might well have identified Monbiot’s confusion with the world. He thinks there’s some significant distance between people cooperating and exchanging with each other and people cooperating and exchanging with each other.

As to the death of neoliberalism us neoliberals are all in favour of people cooperating, voluntarily, the heck out of each other. That they’re doing it without the mediation of money bothers us not one jot, tittle nor iota.

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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