An icon takes something material and makes it transcendent by pointing away from itself. I think the economy should work like an icon. That means the meaning of market activities cannot be found in a market. This is something we forget a lot of times. Part of what it means to be in a market society is that we work ourselves to death and never bother to ask, “Why?” Maybe I am nuts or maybe I am naive, but I don’t think this is what life is supposed to be like.
Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer. –Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations
To explain how capitalism enables a “sick epectasis,” I need to offer a brief history of the liberal (i.e. “liberated”) market.
Pretty much every economist agrees that capitalism originated with Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (a book which most partisans of capitalism have never bothered to read). Smith’s genius was in recognizing that the market is not a zero-sum game in which one person must lose for another to win. Two people, motivated by their self-interest, could both benefit from an exchange. A number of other ideas are connected to this basic insight. Continue reading