The market economy attends well to some dimensions of human life and does not even see others. It is sensitive to those values pertaining to what can be bought and sold but is blind to others that cannot be turned into commodities, such as the integrity of the natural world and the quality of human relationships. The market registers the costs and benefits to transactors acting as social atoms but is impervious to the costs of tearing apart the larger wholes—families, communities, the biosphere—that are vital to the quality of our lives.
In The Illusion of Choice, Andrew Bard Schmookler shows how the market system unfolds according to a logic of its own, shaping everything within its domain—the landscape, social institutions, even human values—to serve its own inherent purposes. This understanding helps illuminate what has been most troubling to generations of Americans struggling to create a more humane society, and provides the conceptual tools by which we can become less the instruments of our powerful systems and more the masters of our destiny.
Here is a powerful critique of the market, not couched in the Marxist economics of surplus value and exploitation, but drawing upon mainstream economics to shows how we all have a stake in making change. Schmookler sets out a program to help us humanize the market, not by overthrowing it but be correcting its biases, not by revolution but by strengthening the democratic process. Perhaps we can now add the most important choice to the abundance of choices the market provides us: the choice of developing into the kind of society we really want to be.
Andrew Bard Schmookler is Research Associate at Harvard University's Center for Psychological Studies in the Nuclear Age. He is the author of a number of books, including The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution and Out of Weakness: Healing the Wounds That Drive Us to War.
"Hundreds of books discuss the market, but none with this kind of criticism. No one else has written with this deep an insight.
"Schmookler provides an extraordinarily deep, broad, and insightful analysis of the social, political, and moral consequences for our civilization of our dependence on the market system. With elegance of language, he shows how the market presents the illusion of choice while its dynamics determine our mores and our behavior in deep and long-lasting ways. " — Lester Milbrath, State University of New York at Buffalo
"I found this work a pleasure to read in several respects: its fine writing, both clear and engaging; its point of attack on the main institution of industrial society, the market; the drawing of difficult and often overlooked implications of the market; and the attempt to address the hoary but necessary issue of the manner of social change for advanced industrial society. " — Joel Jay Kassiola, Brooklyn College, City University of New York