Contesting the Market: An Assessment of Capitalism's Threat to Democracy

In Subramanian Rangan (ed.), Performance and Progress: Essays on Capitalism, Business, and Society. Oxford University Press (2015)
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Abstract
I argue that capitalism presents a threat to “democratic contestation”: the egalitarian, socially distributed capacity to affect how, why, and whether power is used. Markets are not susceptible to mechanisms of accountability, nor are they bearers of intentions in the way that political power-holders are. This makes them resistant to the kind of rational, intentional oversight that constitutes one of democracy’s social virtues. I identify four social costs associated with this problem: the vulnerability of citizens to arbitrary interference, the insensitivity of markets to relevant interests, failures of trust in the market system, and the inhibition of social deliberation about matters of public concern. I make general two suggestions about how we might ameliorate these problems: First, as a way of introducing some measure of intentionality to large-scale patterns of business activity, the reconceptualization of such activity as participation in larger group actions; second, the development of deliberative bodies that bring together business actors, policy experts, and diverse citizens in an effort to better characterize and transmit the public values that business should serve.
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