I posted a rather lengthy comment to a post by David Zetland under the title “Libertarian Communism” at the Aguanomics blog. It discusses “the power structures that affect our lives” in terms of centralized vs. decentralized (what I might prefer to call dispersed) and coercive vs. free, each portrayed as a dichotomy.
I don’t know if my comment is under review or if the site software failed to handle it or if it’s rejected for some reason, but it hasn’t appeared (yet). So, just in the interests of adding some content here, here it is again:
I accept that my comment didn’t really speak directly to the problem of deciding what’s centralized yet voluntary. Also, I realise it’s pretty cheeky to lecture an economics professor on economics. Sorry if I appeared rude. I hope you can accept that I’m actually interested in learning by throwing up some ideas and then seeing what people say to them.
Answering “individual” to the problem of deciding what’s centralized yet voluntary is interestingly provocative. To what extent do the whims on which the individual ‘freely’ acts really belong to or come from that individual? Where’s freedom if they come (unconciously) from peer pressure or from pervasive suggestion (market advertising, government propaganda)? Also, the extent to which individuals are able to be ‘themselves’ is itself a function of societal norms. In our culture the individual is (allegedly) revered. Positively mythic you might say. It wasn’t like that in medieval times and it isn’t necessarily like that in ‘non-western’ cultures.
I think the difficulty with this is perhaps a sign that your scheme of centralization/freedom orthogonal dichotomies is too artificial. My earlier comment was an attempt to point out that while idealised competitive markets may be ideally free, real-world markets are less than free because players look for opportunities to ablate competition and exert coercive influence. I’m not sure why you put quote marks around “large” – a player who completes a million transactions a year is larger than one who completes only a hundred – is that so difficult to understand? Large players have the resources to distract attention from, starve (by loss-leader pricing etc) or buy out small players who threaten their dominance with innovatory offerings. And large players, having more resources, are themselves more easily able to offer innovatory products and so dominate (not to say dictate) development of the market.
This is where the ‘good’ government regulation comes in to prevent the spontaneous formation of monopolies or oligopolies. The meaning of ‘good’ is simply one of being accountable to the people such that govts can be replaced if they don’t please the bulk of the individuals qualified to vote. Looks good as long as you’re happy that (as per my point above) individuals are truly ‘themselves’ and not mirrors of the ideas fed to them by politicians and market players with the resources to dominate public discussion. In practise, the people accept connivance between pols and big market players very readily. For instance, in this country (UK) if Rupert Murdoch or Richard Branson asks for a private meeting with the Prime Minister, they get it. If I ask for one, I’m ignored. A politician who platforms on seriously challenging this (e.g. current Labour leader in UK – maybe) is widely regarded as ‘out of touch’ or an electoral liability. The implication is, rightly or wrongly, that ‘the individual’ not only does not much care about such connivance, but positively welcomes it.