With the introduction of the market within economic systems, we see the power of the capitalist class over the people. Capitalists, who hope to protect their capital/wealth, push their values onto society and help to maintain the economic system still in place today. Karl Polanyi discusses the emergence of the market economy in his book The Great Transformation. The hegemony the capitalist class has over the people has created what Polanyi explains as the belief in spontaneous progress. It makes individuals within society followers to the ideas of the elite and creates a blind spot of the true power and influence held by there people. While this market system is perceived as emerging within societies around this world, this does not mean the people have control over it or agree with it. Increasing awareness on the hidden costs within a market system have created a backlash by proletariats around the world.
This market economy allows for the accumulation of capital and assumes that all individuals will focus on maximizing their own profit. The limited regulations created in the market economy along with the privatization of land allows externalized costs. One important externalized cost is environmental degradation which has become a major consequence of capitalism. Pollution, habitat depletion, dead zones, reduction in biodiversity, etc. have all been consequences of the nonregulated market system. From a social perspective, capitalism has been shown to alienate people dissolving community bonds and social ties. The repetitive forms of labor and the separation from production found within a market economy have created apathy towards work for many laborers. The disappearance of passion in the work individuals do also hurts the mentality of individuals.
Polanyi goes on to explain that a market economy could only occur within a market society. (Fun side note: An example of how our society has been shaped by the market is how we think of time. “I spent some time with my friends” “don’t waste my time”. We monetized our time and it is fairly common within our culture to speak of time in the form of monetary value. As a minimum wage worker, I tend to look at items I buy in terms of how many hours I worked and do an analysis on whether the suffering was worth the item!) This helps explain why changes towards sustainability are so hard to accomplish: it would chip away the society helping to maintain the economic system. Actions towards sustainability can only occur with a systemic overturn of the economic system enforced. This in turn would allow societal changes to create a more sustainable world.