I don’t know how or when it happened, but there’s this very popular idea floating around that the economy is some sort of force unto itself. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say things like, “Let the market decide!” or “The market should set the minimum wage,” or my personal favorite, “If you want to fix the economy, get out of its way!” All of these phrases speak to the idea that somehow the economy is a force that can make it’s own decisions, independent of people. Guess what?
The market is people. The economy itself is people, defined by our actions and values. You can personify it all you want as some sort of intelligent force that humans meddle with, but you’re dead wrong. You want to know why the economy is such a complicated thing to address or handle? Because people are complicated. We all value different things, we all have different motivations, and we all act in different ways. It comes as no surprise to me that the economy is totally chaotic right now, because the people are chaotic.
But my larger point is that simply saying “let the economy handle itself,” is misguided. The economy can’t handle itself, because it’s not a force or a thing, as some people seem to think. With zero people involved, there would cease to be an economy. Instead, we’d be left with only microeconomies, the temporary ones that would pop into existence when I traded my labor for my neighbor’s goods. But we don’t live in 1807 America. There’s commerce between states, between nations and governments, and between corporations and people. It’s people who drive all that, but do you trust the average citizen? The government functions to protect the nation, and at some point in the past we as a country decided that that extended to economic protection. You can argue the extent to which government is and should be involved all you want, because that’s not my ultimate point.
My ultimate point is this: the economy isn’t a living, breathing, sentient force that can run itself, so who do you trust to handle economic matters? The government? Corporations? Your city council? Your next door neighbor? Personally, I think that there’s too much division and diversity among people to really ever create a solid, stable economy no matter who the watchers and protectors we designate are. If you want to fix an economy, you have to fix the people (or rather the people have to fix themselves). And I’m very cynical about that happening.