Ben Bernanke was named this week as Time Magazine‘s ‘Person of the Year’ for 2009. Hmmm…I guess it is possible for a person to be considered a hero, even after his actions significantly contributed to the crisis he then helped to avert. But over a year has passed since the wheels came off of our national and global economic marketplace, and we still haven’t asked any of the really tough questions about what went wrong and what we can do to correct our economic vision and methods. While Bernanke and the Obama Administration did take action to avert a global depression, no one has opened a public conversation about the crisis of trust in local, national or global markets. I believe we need to talk about inspiring trust in our markets, so everyone can participate and contribute.
This week too it was reported that Paul Samuelson, the first American Nobel laureate in economics, had died at age 94. In 1948, Dr. Samuelson published his economics textbook that would become the collegiate standard for market education. I still have my copy from my initial economics course in 1970…it’s amazing how relevant it is in these difficult and complex times. I was pondering yesterday that the best educational minds and the textbooks they write are powerless when we choose to disregard the basics in personal and corporate practices. When ideology or wishful-thinking replace the principles that result from rigorous research, the consequences are predictable and grim. This reflection provides me with an even greater sense of urgency in renewed conversations on markets we can trust.
If we want to have some conversations about market we can trust, I can suggest three inter-connected concepts…each is already being practiced, but could be understood and applied to a greater extent. Who knows…this might provide a basis for a deliberative framing in the future.
‘Competitive’ markets are basic to our understanding of how commerce works, but too often these days it’s been popular to characterize them as ‘free’ markets. It’s unfortunate that some very influential ‘free’ markets are far from competitive, including financial and health care markets. These markets can only work well though when economic, social and media transparency are expected by the public and supported by appropriate legislation. This form of market shaping can be applied to goods and services as producers and suppliers meet the everyday needs of consumers.
‘Social’ or ‘fair’ markets have gained in popular support, but they basically rely on altruistic consumers who are willing to pay more for products they believe have additional benefits attached in terms of social justice, economic stability, religious convictions and environmental sustainability. These markets provide an application of buying power to influence on more than product availability. This form of market shaping can be applied to many different products with different attached social concerns by liberals and conservatives.
‘Local’ markets have been pretty much replaced in many areas by big-box and franchise domination, but in recent years they’re reemerging as an alternative to corporate-controlled markets. These markets have the unique capacity to adapt quickly and accurately to shifts in consumer demand. They can ‘turn-on-a-dime’ and can respond with local sensitivity. This form of market shaping can be applied in all places to include the values and needs of people without imposing those values and needs on others inappropriately.
Sadly, our current markets are not trusted…and for good reason. They aren’t competitive, or integrated into our values, or locally sensitive, or sustainable. This is another of those big-picture topics that influence many of our public policy dilemmas. Let’s talk about markets we can trust.