Market Myths

The US health care system is 2.5 times more expensive than the nearest competitor for inferior overall outcomes. A UK Treasury study of “private financing initiatives” showed they typically added 40% to the cost of public services. Academic publisher Elsevier’s 37% profit margins are a big reason why its articles cost 8 times more apiece than do their open source equivalents. And of course the Cameron government’s massive cut to British universities resulted in an immediate, nearly-universal tripling of fees and a likely increase of 100 billion pounds to public debt.

MOOCs and Parking Lots: Privatization on Auto-Pilot,” Chris Newfield

As a kid, I loved the Greek Myths. I am not completely sure why– I wasn’t a natural scholar or anything, and there was nothing systematic or intellectual about my interests. I think I just liked the idea of a world that included these supernatural beings. I have the same feeling now when I watch Dr. Who. I don’t have to believe in the good Doctor– literally, as my students would say– in order to take pleasure in the idea that he exists.

I think the market has a similar role in the lives of a lot of people. If you think about it, or do some reading, you quickly find out that the market is no panacea for anything. It does some things well, but even the things it does well have very high costs, many conveniently hidden. Apple brought us the I-phone, but behind the technology lies an entire world of exploited labor and environmental damage, among other things.

At some point– reading Yeats, I think– I discovered that the Greek Myths also included the rape of Leda by Zeus in the form of a Swan. It’s a freaky and disturbing story. We need a similar sort of story for the people who believe in markets. The market is comforting because we want to live in a world that sorts itself out automatically, that settle into fairness in the way a dog settles down to sleep. The market story is pleasant and utterly impossible.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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