Environmental Protection and Economic Well-Being: The Economic Pursuit of Quality

By Thomas Michael Power | Go to book overview

Chapter Eleven

Grander Visions, Grander Problems

1. Introduction

This book has sought to broaden the meaning of "economic" and "the economy" to include all the resources, goods, and activities that contribute to our economic well-being, whether or not they are associated with commercial markets. In this expanded context, the book has recast local economic-development efforts. It has shown why growth-oriented efforts are likely to fail to improve local economic well-being. It has also suggested that, despite the limits imposed upon such efforts by national and international market forces, there are alternative ways in which communities can improve the economic well-being of their residents.

In doing these things, the book has glossed over some very serious problems with the way a capitalist market economy limits, diverts, or distorts efforts to improve well-being. We now turn to this darker side of our economy. We will then return to our analysis of appropriate economic-development strategies, to seek the seeds of an alternative vision of an economy free of the limits our economic system now imposes upon us.


2. The Dominance of Markets and the Prevalence of Market Failure

Our dominant economic institution is the commercial market. Most coordination of economic activities, distribution of economic goods, and motivation of productive behavior are left to the market. The market is the centerpiece of our system of economic organization, and we have made strong political, social, and cultural commitments to it.

For most of the last several centuries, we have experimented with extending the range of the individual and social activities that can be disciplined and coordinated by the market. Today, for instance, we are increasingly turning to commercial organizations to take over much of what has been noncommercial "housework" or "homemaking": child care, the preparation of meals, the care and cleaning of our homes, and so on. We are fanning out the operation of our prisons, parks, schools, and hospitals to private firms. The ultimate range of

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