A maybe naive (but I would like to think positively idealistic) build/variation on my recent 'lefty' post, inspired a little by some of the comments that one received.
In thinking about whether free market proponents (or businesses in general) really practise what they preach, one thought that struck me (maybe simplistic - happy to hear a well argued alternative) is that many rely on what I shall call 'lazy competition' to succeed. Businesses don't really compete with each other in a 'red in tooth and claw', survival of the fittest sense. It's often more a case of (latent...because they won't see it this way) collusion, where they rely instead on out of control consumerism (and the ability to 'infect' developing countries with the same disease) to grow markets so that everyone 'wins' - you don't have to be fit to survive you just have to be playing the game.
But there are still losers (there always are), and that's those of us doing the consuming - all that 'extra' income we 'enjoy' because of economic growth is spent as quickly as we earn it, on things we don't really need, which provide limited (if any) incremental utility. And, of course, the environment doesn't do too well out of this arrangement either, as we eat up nonrenewable natural resources and replace them with, well, rubbish.
So what's the answer? I can't say that there's an easy one. Or rather one that doesn't involve apparent sacrifice (at least as defined by the economic rules we are currently slaves to). But maybe what we need to do is start looking for different models to work by, built around more socially beneficial and environmentally sustainable levels of growth (reminds me of this, which I wrote a while ago, comparing collaborative 'ecologies' to competitive economies); strategies of 'enough' rather than 'more' - because when you have enough, more rarely makes you any happier. In fact, it probably makes you less.
Yes, incomes would be lower, which I guess would be the main counter argument, but so would overall consumption - so net we may end up better off! Particularly as most of us, in the West at least, are now well beyond the 'enough' point, and into the diminishing...even negative returns of 'more'.
In this model, companies would also have to get back to proper competition (which is no bad thing, if harnessed in a social constructive way) - the 'free market' kind where you have to properly earn the right to receive my money…a right many good companies have earned (but a right too many have simply 'stolen' by being on the materialist consumerist gravy train of growth). This would be a 'people first' not 'company first' world where failure to earn my trust and respect would mean something more significant than succeeding less.
How do we get to this point? Again I don't know. For me (and I think this is where it gets very personal), I see it as an almost spiritual question, something that requires a paradigm shift in how we view the world, and our place in it. Others will have equally valid points of view, and effective strategies for change, and I would love to hear them.
But change will have to come, because where we are heading is unsustainable, self-destructive, and (irony of ironies) doesn't even really deliver the benefits to us the 'consumer' that we think we're buying into.