Thursday 8 September 2011

"Let The Market Decide"

On a contact’s Multiply page, there is a discussion going on over whether a certain news network named after a vulpine animal should be banned. There, a certain creature of known ultra-right and highly racist views, which has chosen of its own volition to call itself after an intestinal parasite of platyhelminthic origin, said – among other things including an attack on “liberal cesspools” (rich coming from a creature which lives of its own volition in a stream of liquid intestinal faeces) – that

let the market decide. not some stupid petition.
silencing a media outlet is not something that exists in my america.

Obviously, this being a right-wing flatworm without a brain, one can’t expect logical argument or knowledge from it, and I’ll just point out in passing about how Al Jazeera had been blocked for years until it became suddenly politically convenient to unblock it (when it began attacking the Empire’s enemy de jour, Gaddafi, and now Assad). I’ll also point out that Al Jazeera’s journalists seemed to have a most distressing tendency to be “accidentally” bombed and shelled to death by the Empire’s forces, and that Serbian and Libyan TV stations were quite deliberately targeted to silence them. Of course, the intestinal parasite was technically right – those media outlets weren’t in what is officially American territory, its or anyone else’s. So, for the purposes of this discussion, I’ll let that pass.

Before I go on further, I’ll just talk about my views about the petition the parasite referred to. It seeks to ban Fox News and is here if anyone is interested. Personally, I wouldn’t sign it; not because I like Fox News (I never watch TV, let alone American news programmes, anyway) but because while it’s extremely nasty (remember the cheering for war against Iraq?), it’s a known outlet for right-wingnut poison, and therefore acts as a safety valve cum window into wingnut mentality. If one bans it, the wingnuts will either set up another or take over less right-wing networks like CNN.

(While I’m on the subject, I don’t like CNN either, which is just a better-disguised propaganda device and war cheerleader. I don’t like the BBC. I don’t like any – that’s any – news network, be it print or media, anywhere in the world. They all, without exception, have agendas which are dictated by money supply and political control. I depend on a cross-section of the net for my news and analyses. Most net content is free, and while it can be ideologically slanted, at least it’s not usually completely mercenary. And one can easily seek opposing viewpoints if one chooses.)   

No, the thing I want to talk about is this “let the market decide.” I’ve been hearing this kind of drivel for a long time now, and it’s time to call it. So:

First thing: news, per se, is not a consumer product. It should not be a consumer product. TRPs and ad revenues shouldn’t determine what’s fit to show or print. If the “market” (more on that in a moment) decides news, we might as well forget anything that has anything to do with reality and start producing pure fantasy to satisfy what the “market” wants. If the “market” wants UFOs, the news agencies might as well begin producing fake tales of UFOs. If the “market” seems to want a war, it might as well be all right for news agencies to promote the idea of a war. Remember the film Wag The Dog?

Those of us with a certain memory of fairly recent history (or those of us who have watched Sometimes In April or Hotel Rwanda) will remember the Rwandan Hutu radio station RTLM whose broadcasts urged Hutu people to wipe out the “cockroaches” (Tutsis) and told them where the “cockroaches” were hiding. Obviously, the “market” demanded a chauvinistic, violent media source to fuel ethnic hatred and orchestrate the massacre. Therefore, was it all right for RTLM to supply the market demand? According to the “let the market decide” school of thought, it should have been, and its broadcasters should be called economic geniuses and not war criminals.    

In India, we have had recent suggestions that magazines and newspapers stop publishing negative news and start focussing on good news instead. The inference is clear of course, that this is to protect the political and capitalist paymasters of the people making the suggestions – people at risk from the current anti-corruption and anti-capitalist feeling in the country. At the same time, news in this country is pretty much up for sale to the highest bidder anyway. There have been commissions on the issue; their reports have been quickly buried, never to be heard of again. News-as-a-consumer-product is just too lucrative to be abandoned.

But just because it’s lucrative, just because it’s commonly done, doesn’t make it right. Slavery was once both a money-spinner and legal. That didn’t make it right.

Secondly, if the “market” deciding means that the tastes of consumers with the highest purchasing power decide what the others are stuck with, that’s completely opposed to the democracy the proponents of the “market” typically declare they are for. Obviously, capitalism isn’t democratic – it’s directly opposed to democracy – but it would be completely egregious if money equalled power, as it does in capitalistic corporations where one man with a million and one shares can outvote a thousand with a thousand shares each. On the other hand, if the “market” means the tastes of the majority should rule the day, then a petition is a perfectly legitimate way of expressing the tastes of the majority, as long as it gets the support of that majority. There’s nothing wrong in a petition changing the position of the “market”, by the very rules of the “market”.
The third question is, does the market actually decide? What the hell is the “market” anyway? Certainly, it’s not the open exchange of goods and services. If that were the case, you’d have had a laissez faire system with zero regulation, where prices, quality, and terms and conditions were all up to the individual manufacturer or seller, where there was no such thing as consumer rights or protection, and where any larger concern could undercut your prices, put you out of business, and ultimately establish a total monopoly. The very fact that there are regulatory authorities to prevent this kind of thing from happening – and that a terrific amount of political effort goes into manipulating these regulations and regulatory bodies – means that the market, in reality, decides nothing. People do.

Therefore, anti-hate speech laws, libel laws, and the other things that go to make up the framework of media regulations and ethics (even if observed more in the breach), are directly opposed to the demands of the “market”. They are specifically designed to ensure that the “market” (including the stock market) doesn’t rule what can or should be in the media. The fact that they aren’t effective in that does not change the basic premise. As a logical extension, saying “the market should decide” is absurd.

It’s not just that it shouldn’t. It can’t.


  1. Funny you would choose to use the market wanting UFOs as an example. For these days, the "History" Channel is showing exactly that: conspiracy theories about UFOs disguised as documentaries :)

  2. "First thing: news, per se, is not a consumer product. It should not be a consumer product. TRPs and ad revenues shouldn’t determine what’s fit to show or print. If the “market” (more on that in a moment) decides news, we might as well forget anything that has anything to do with reality and start producing pure fantasy to satisfy what the “market” wants. If the “market” wants UFOs, the news agencies might as well begin producing fake tales of UFOs" I suspect they already do this in the US. I so, so agree with you, the news should not be a consumer product but even here where it used to be far more neutral (or at least appear so), that neutrality is fast falling by the wayside. In fact while I agree that the market doesn't decide, I am not sure that people really do decide either. Because I think that those decisions are manipulated by advertising and popular culture and that much of this is insidious and not always as overt as it might appear.

    Excellent article, as usual, from you. Kia ora.


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