Democratizing Markets

This article is part of What to Do about Inequality, a forum on correcting gross inequities in pre-tax income.

In his provocative essay, David Grusky calls for Occupy Wall Street and other groups looking to combat inequality to go beyond a “tax-based redistributive agenda.” They should focus instead on the way that “corruption, bottlenecks, and sweetheart deals” embedded in our markets give rise to rents that generate inequality.

As Dean Baker argues in his recent book The End of Loser Liberalism, this critique of the way our markets themselves generate inequality is essential to addressing problems of inequality. But Grusky also thinks that a program to reduce inequality should embrace an authentic commitment to a competitive market economy, as if there were such a thing as a pure, competitive market economy, apart from law and regulation. Instead, we need to acknowledge that markets always depend on legal and regulatory choices, that different choices of laws and regulations lead to different outcomes, and that part of the point of democracy is to make those legal and regulatory choices well. We cannot take refuge in the abstraction of a competitive market economy.

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