Anarchists of many shades have tried to show the destructiveness of markets by pointing to capitalism as the exigent system of extreme markets and the construction of a market society. According to these anarchists, markets engender destructive competition and a race to the bottom with firms inevitably monopolising and thus imposing high costs and artificial scarcity upon populations. “Market economies are based on an all out economic war, where a game of economic musical chairs(artificial scarcity) is created”. Of course, this is based on two false propositions: that markets are defined by modern capitalism and that scarcity is something inevitably escapable rather than being a complex of multitudinous social and property relations.
Markets efficiently allocate resources in a system, or systems, of scarcity. When a resource or good is scarce, markets are used to allocate ownership, price and thus production and consumption. However, such a system does not fundamentally exist under actually existing capitalism. What we see today instead is a large series of regulated and effectively rigged monopoly systems where pricing is decided internally among “competitive” firms. Many costs are externalised on the taxpayer, ranging from social and environmental costs in the form of transportation and pollution, to entry barriers which restrict competition from meaningfully existing. This can be seen in intellectual property, licensure laws and planning laws.
The state has a huge role in shaping and creating modern capitalist economies, with markets being used as a tool of price production and mechanisms for consumption. Monopoly firms control nearly every process in production and consumption, with the market being used as a distribution mechanism. Mass production as a paradigm dominates the modern world not because of market mechanisms, but because of systemic and consistent state intervention on behalf of vested interests, described by Roy Childs as big business. Whether it be with transport and communication infrastructure, the maintenance of regulated stock and capital markets, the maintained scarcity of land and capital, or the development of international economies of scale in manufacturing and energy, the state has played a huge part in constructing and maintaining these systems. Free markets by any definition have no part in such a system except as either an ideological justification or a tool of distribution.
However, interstitially freed markets already operate according to natural scarcities and extremely varied price and production systems. They also negate the mass production paradigm. Whether in Shenzhen or central Italy, systems and markets are developing where production is relative to the direct economy and multiple firm-types are able to proliferate and compete in different economies of scale and through different mechanisms, whether that be small batch production or order-based production.
In a truly competitive system, many of the products and economies of scale that exist today would be so capital-intensive as to be value-negative. Their actual price when including externalised costs would rise exponentially relative to consumer demand, meaning smaller, decentralised options would become necessary to outcompete corporate monoliths. All types of firm, and with it many types of value maximisation, are able to develop and proliferate in such a system, as subjective value is maximised among wide-ranging groups of people. In some areas, barter and basic monetary relations would exist as it serves the needs of particular public goods and systems. Already in Greek cities such systems are becoming important in creating medical services and local market systems. In others, complex economic relations with hierarchic and non-hierarchic firms are able to develop as those are desired relative to the socio-economic values individuals and collectivities desire.
As a result, conceptions of scarcity come with freed markets as the system to adjudicate value and production amongst multiple firms and consumer demands and subjectivities. Where scarcity becomes irrelevant, as it is beginning to be with music technology and filesharing, markets can develop around the best systems of delivery. So with filesharing, there are a wide variety of TORs, torrents and other sites where different file formats exist for similar products and services. Going further from this, new developments in Blockchain technology allow for a proliferation of community building and contractual services. Scarcity in the sense of a need for extensive division of labour does not negate the development of markets. Rather new markets can develop relative to new technological movements, or can still exist as a marker of particular subjective valuations among networks and communities of consumers and producers. In this sense, communities can compete (or collaborate) in the creation of regulatory structures and delivery and distribution systems, with better systems becoming more able to satisfy subjective demands among groups of individuals. However, this does not naturally monopolise as everyone has different preferences. Rather such markets constantly evolve and change shape and direction.
Individuals who produce goods have a subjective preference in not only what they produce, but also in what systems of regulation and distribution they choose to use. Thus direct production for use as well as markets in particular goods become equally possible. There is no need for overarching systems either in the sense of a Polanyian market society or a confederal community that governs economic relations. Already, such can be seen in the Argentine Piquetero movement where firms have produced both for local markets as well as directly for use in their particular communities.
Fundamentally, markets are the product of social relations and conflicts that create meaningful systems of distribution and production. Efficiency and price are defined relative to the socio-economic values of particular individuals and communities. “The market and the assignment of property titles within it is a garden we grow. A tool”. Meshworks and networks of individuals and settled (as well as adhoc) communities develop their understanding of economic and social value, and as a result define and create systems of property and governmentality.
“The foundation of property shouldn’t hinge on what rocks you’ve poked some point in the past or even what you’ve chosen to extend your cybernetic nervous system into, but what best satiates your desires or aspirations in balance with everyone else’s. This is after all what markets at their best promise: The notion that everyone’s subjective preferences will be satiated more efficiently than would be possible attempting to talk them out in a global consensus meeting”. The same can be said for markets. Carson similarly describes such subjective market systems. “Bodies — governed as cooperatives, or on Ostrom’s common pool resource model — will coexist as parts of a polycentric framework, with a body of common law arising to adjudicate relations between them. This body of common law, worked out by local juries or arbitration bodies, or by agreement negotiated between the various commons and cooperatives, will be binding internally on the members of the associations which agree to them”.
By rejecting markets, anarchists are simply rejecting a realm of socio-economic organisation that they themselves subjectively dislike. If they dislike markets, fine. Let them create and/or live in systems that are reliant on production for use and the elimination of all forms of scarcity. They may proliferate, they may not. But one cannot deny the ability for markets to similarly proliferate in systems of anarchism. Such is a tacit acceptance of coercive force to limit particular objectives. If we are anarchists, we should accept, and celebrate, the capability of markets to exist and prosper.