For at least the past thirty years, allegiance to market liberal economics in the West has been colored by a mostly bipartisan support structure. Conservatives embrace capitalism wholeheartedly, while mainstream leftists operate under the Clinton-Blair-Renzi deluge of “Third Way” thinking. Skeptics do exist, yet even they carefully align criticisms to fit the neo-liberal sphere, certifying that the principal concept of meritocratic expansion is not too harshly eradicated. Because for all of its faults, the liberal economy is seen as the “best of the worst,” just like democracy seems to be the safe option for nation-state organization.
The threat of such ideological complacency rests with petty dismissal, not only of opposing viewpoints, but individual human lives. We see this most vividly with the destruction of traditional agriculture. After India liberalized its markets in the 1990s, the country saw a wave of suicide on the part of farmers reaching over 250,000 people, with the cause attributed to their inability to compete. Although free markets allegedly make products cheaper – allegedly – they also contribute to the conditions under which smaller producers may struggle to survive. This is due to the manner in which neo-liberalism causes farmers to compete with large, GMO-empowered companies who strive to corner the market with expensive seeds and equipment that drive agriculturalists into debt. All it then takes is a drop in commodity prices for the little guy to lose his family farm and fall into despair.
On the latter point, the “it’s good for the economy” argument related to pricing of goods hides major cynicism. Cutting out pesky regulations and tariffs may result in cheaper products for the world at-large, but these basic (and typically lower quality) items look rather toxic when they come at the expense of one’s livelihood. In line with the India example, Syrian farmers were left destitute after Bashar Al-Assad signed a free trade agreement with Turkey that flooded the Damascus world with cheap imports. Think too of Midwestern Americans being able to afford a fancy smartphone thanks to globalization, while working a minimum wage job to replace the factory’s closure. Goods may be cheaper, but so are wages, or employment itself.
Where quality is concerned, the issue goes beyond a thing’s basic utility. GMOs and preservatives might have theoretically allowed us to feed much of the world by diminishing the risks inherent to poor harvests or malnutrition, but are the costs worth it? America for example has incredible rates of deadly disease tied directly to the typical Burger’s horrendous diet. Greasy and processed foods seem convenient, and still the outcome is destructive. We have lost sight of concrete natural cycles in order to feel like nothing impedes the bustling of everyday lives, and our jobs which have no meaning.
Affordability can also reduce the value of an item, even for the classes who are better-positioned to enjoy it. The more we accumulate, the less individual possessions matter, leading some down the path of aggrandizing products simply to extract value from a paycheck. “I have money so might as well spend it,” becomes the zeitgeist of distilled existence. Then on the opposite spectrum we see those made poor by liberal prosperity, who must compensate by describing their own lifestyle as a dynamic dungeon escape towards the mythical land of Minimalism.
Imagine if instead those souls worked the soil they stood upon for the food in their mouths, the love under their roof, and the belief clasped to their hearts.