Tuesday, April 28, 2009

market blog


Long before the invention of money people traded with each other to enrich their lives. Markets were the result of this basic human desire. The I Ching, an ancient Chinese social commentary, defined markets as 'places where human beings could exchange goods so that each person could receive all those things that he needed'. They are an association of individuals, an organic (meaning formed naturally) gathering of people for mutual benefit. This common interest would seem to be a major factor in the development of societies. Markets could make work more enjoyable with the anticipation of a greater variety of rewards for one's labour.

A friend from Bolivia told me that in parts of South America people don't often have any money but no one goes hungry. Everyone produces something and takes it to the market where it is exchanged. I know it would be seen by some as a token gesture in today's money-driven world, as we are all reliant on the giants of industry for modern lifestyles, but there are still valuable principles at work in the small scale. I recently went to market with my woven goods and only enough money for a stall fee. I returned with fresh and smoked fish, free-range eggs, homemade bacon and fruit and vegetables, enough to feed me for a couple of weeks. All procured by a mixture of sell, buy and barter.

Two things I find most enjoyable about community markets are people-watching and socialising with locals and visitors alike. There seems to be an understanding that we are all there for the same reason and this has a harmonising effect. It feels ancient and natural. People have their own beauty when they are just being themselves, no pretentions. Most are naturally sociable. They are often amusing and the children delightful, their interest and curiosity obvious. From the very old to the very young, markets attract a surprisingly well-balanced and good-natured cross-section of humanity. It gives you faith in people.

Community markets provide an outlet for human creativity on an individual or small scale. They keep people active who cannot find other work. They give a sense of community and purpose to participants, buyers and sellers alike. People face to face. They foster a sense of fellowship, a sense of belonging, a sense that we need and benefit one another. They are small enough to recognise and celebrate each individual, as an equal. If we used the community markets more, the supermarkets and big chain stores less, we would maybe all feel a little more independent from the large monopolies and more connected with each other.

Supermarkets and malls can be very impersonal and alienating because of their sheer size, like huge awe-inspiring churches which are designed to make people feel small and insignificant. They don't often seem to be run by the people for the people but by an absentee faceless group of owners. The buyers and sellers have to pay the owners for the priviledge of using the building. Many small scale businesses cannot afford the high rents and are therefore excluded from trading, that's why larger operators, franchises and chain stores often monopolise these large expensive buildings. Community markets can appear and disappear leaving no trace. They are open to everyone, even children.

Plans to control everything seem to be prevalent in the modern world. Let's be honest. The human race has been making it up as they go along. Left or right, all human ideas are either flawed or incomplete because we don't know everything there is to know (i.e. we are not Gods). This affects our ability to put perfect systems into place. Tinkering, altering and reforming are a natural response to our wavering human perception of right or wrong, better or worse. It is trial and error all the way. It's called evolution.

As far as I can see, our only guide in our dealings with each other is a sense of fairness. Self interest (competition) and fairness (co-operation) motivate everything we do. Fairness or mutual benefit also operates in the balance of nature, it is how everything co-exists on the planet which keeps us all alive. Maybe we don't yet really understand how it works as we still seem of late to be overly fixated on competition.

Some ancient ideas and concepts are still valid, a simpler and purer form of what we have now. If we want to create a better society maybe we have to go back and re-learn the basics. If the foundations are fair and sound, the rest will hopefully follow naturally. Maybe even a large and complex society can be a beautiful thing as long as each member feels that he or she is treated fairly. Naive idealism to some. A work in progress to others.

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