It’s time to get emotional about marketsPosted on October 10, 2011
Free marketeers have long faced a puzzling mystery. Despite priding ourselves on logic, amassing vast amounts of well argued evidence and indeed having the bulk of human history to call on in support of our case, we still struggle to win the political battle outright.
Indeed, it continues to be fashionable to be opposed to markets, to reject and deny the virtues and benefits of competition. The Occupy the London Stock Exchange protesters may be a motley bunch, and are apparently a bit too keen on Starbuck’s to maintain their “solidarity”, but for millions of people they have the dash and the perceived moral high ground, while the city workers walking past them to their desks emphatically do not.
Why is this?
Put simply, it’s because of the tension between the heart and the head. Armed with logic, statistics and evidence the Right thought for too long that it didn’t need emotive arguments. The closest analogy I can think of is the American war effort in Vietnam – their kit was so good, their helicopters so costly and their body armour so high tech that they thought the fact that the Vietcong had a stronger sense of morale and ideology than the conscript GIs wouldn’t matter. As history showed, they were wrong.
Humans are emotional beasts as well as thinking creatures. It’s not enough to know the science of making paints and pigments, or the mathematics of constructing a picture, you need to have the passion, imagination and vision as well in order to create a masterpiece that will stir the soul of the beholder.
Perhaps it’s because we were animals before we evolved to become civilised thinkers that emotion without logic succeeds in gathering popular support more often than logic without emotion. In a battle between the protesters on the steps of St Paul’s tugging at the heart strings in favour of the big state (despite the woeful historical record of the anti-market statism they support) and Excel-wielding wonks displaying the evidence in defence of a market economy, the former pose a serious threat in terms of public opinion.
Advocates of the market should continue to compile and deploy evidence, of course. It’s right and inherent to our views that we build our case on solid, thought-through foundations. But we need to speak from the heart and get a bit emotional about markets, too.
And there is an emotional case to be made.
It is the market that sets us free to do as we wish – to buy a book; to treat our loved ones to flowers or meandering adventures in the countryside; to aspire to and secure more for ourselves, our families or our neighbours.
It is the market that allows people to do the silly things that make us gloriously and touchingly human – for a close friend of mine to buy a Big Issue from every seller that she sees, leaving her struggling home with a handbag full of never-to-be-read, identical copies of the same magazine; to get that ill-advised and sadly mispelled teenage tattoo; to buy those green wellies with frogs’ eyes on the toes.
It is the market that gives its own critics the education, the technology and the freedom to seek to destroy it – the tents gaffa taped outside St Paul’s cathedral; the phones tweeting outrage against the mechanism that developed them; the Starbuck’s hosting a 50-yard queue of anti-capitalist protesters keen to warm their hands on a coffee in the October air.
It is the market that developed and provides the materials and the means for all of our great art to be created – from the straining fingers of the Sistine Chapel to the chaotic vases of Grayson Perry.
Most importantly of all, it is the market which acts as a ladder for uncounted people to climb inexorably upwards, out of the brutality, the muck, the misery and the disease that has for so long dogged human beings’ existence.
Poverty is deadly – sometimes swiftly, when an earthquake strikes a village built of mud bricks, but normally slowly, from the first breaths of smoke from an unventilated fire to the last struggle for a threadbare blanket to keep out the cold of winter. People say that wealth isn’t everything, but it is often a prerequisite to stay alive long enough to embellish just living with the things that matter, like family, personal achievement and happiness.
The steps of this ladder don’t wear out, and it is so high that we haven’t got within sight of the top yet. Billions of people are still far too far down it – but we should be clear and unashamed that it is the best way to raise them up, to allow them to pursue the glorious and the petty things that make life so beautiful.