Market Economy and Social reality – A pragmatic view from a well known author

The pragmatics of having a market economy deal with social realities are highlighted in an interview with award winning author David Simon. Link to article including the interview:

Why we need more than market economy theory to understand social stability.

Without commenting on David Simon’s conclusions on the American war on drugs, this interview highlights the importance of understanding social realities from a holist perspective. This has the effect of trying to identify little known influences on social reality. Knowledge commonly available through media outlets or public discourse does not necessarily shed light on the full consequences of using a market economy to regulate social interactions.

The critical view of Simon, seeing the war on drugs thrive along the poverty line, can be appreciated as a description of a reality where a segment of the American population has distanced itself from another. This distancing could be read as a consequence of criminal activity if Simon did not reverse this perception and present it with brutal pragmatism. Simon talks about how American society is splitting itself with the criminalization of the only working opportunity available to pockets of people left behind after the golden days of the American middle class.

We can see why, for Simon and political economists such as Karl Polanyi long before him, a market economy cannot be relied upon for social stability and in fact erodes the social fabric. Morality, as Simon describes it in the American context, is the expression of rejection from one group to another and I would argue, sign of the absence of moral obligation between those groups, that is, between two groups where one could be said to be privileged in relation to the other. In addition, a “pure form” of capitalism, says Simon, does not exist nor solve those issues.

Needless to say the marginalization and repression of a group by another is an all too common occurrence. What Simon does is to awaken the listener to the need to question market economy solutions to social problems. The lessons of this awakening are yet to come in his opinion, as the current system has not yet reached a point where the people has had enough. This was two years ago. Current events in Baltimore and elsewhere lead me to think we North Americans are living a sudden awakening to underlying social tensions in part resulting from market logics applied to social reality.

Questioning the free market notion is nothing new. On this blog, and in a recent publication (, the Sustaining Knowledge Commons team explores various Open access alternatives to the current publication system. By researching a transition of published scholarly works to a knowledge commons, the project may help avoid some of the pitfalls of a market economy for scholarly works such as the enclosure of knowledge or a segmented participation to the public good due to prohibitive publication costs.

Cite as:

Calvé-Genest, A. (2015). Market Economy and Social reality – A pragmatic view from a well known author. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from

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