What are “Market Forces” Anyway?

I was reading an article about the NDP Government’s dialogue with the oil industry. I apologise for not recording the URL, but one of the major topics was the environment of course. One CEO was quoted as saying something like the government should let big business deal with environmental goals based on market forces.

While I would agree that the government and the oil industry need to work together, it struck me that I am not quite sure what market forces really means? So I did a bit of looking.

BusinessDictionary.com offers this definition: “Forces of demand and supply representing the aggregate influence of self-interested buyers and sellers on price and quantity of the goods and services offered in a market. In general, excess demand causes prices and quantity of supply to rise, and excess supply causes them to fall.”

The McMillan Dictionary online offers a shorter version: “the economic influences that affect prices, salaries, and the number of jobs available and are not controlled by the government.”

I don’t know if oil executive agree with these definitions, but I am not seeing how market forces as defined above will aptly address environmental issues. For example, if low prices is a major driver, how will that driver affect improving the environment?

But here is a bigger question, at least from my point of view. Haven’t market forces actually been at work in creating environmental problems like water and soil pollution, poor air quality, and the like?

I do think market forces have a central role in societal decision-making, but I am not sure just leaving such challenges to the market place bodes that well for citizens and communities. Perhaps instead of arguing over who should be responsible for what, the government and the oil industry (and other industries as well) should figure out a framework that includes market forces, citizen and community well-being and health, environmental goals that are collectively owned and implemented by all involved.

Just a thought.


One thought on “What are “Market Forces” Anyway?

  1. I too am quite puzzled when I hear arguments advocating for the governance of the public sphere to be allocated to the private sphere. A couple of quotes from Benjamin Barber seem appropriate here:

    “Democratic governance is not about just choosing; rather it is about public choosing, about dealing with the social consequences of private choices and behaviour. In the global sector this is crucial, because only public and democratic decisions can establish social justice and equity. Private markets cannot, not because they are capitalist but because they are private.”

    “There are many things government cannot do very well, but there are many others that only government can do, such as regulate and protect, and sometimes subsidize and redistribute – not because it does them particularly well, but because they are public things for which only we, the public, can be held accountable. These res publicae (literally, “public things”) include education, culture, incarceration, transportation, defines, health care, social justice…”


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