The Free Market Is Not A Free-For-All

Original thing I was going to post on has been canceled because this happened: in a comment thread about a publishing company’s follies, one of the commenters told a story about a coffee shop that failed because despite the nice decor and cookies, the coffee was lousy. I thought something was missing from the story so I asked:

Didn’t anyone tell him his coffee tasted like sock water?

I got the following reply from another commenter, not even the one who was telling the story:

He’s running the business. It’s nobody else’s responsibility to keep him in business.

Okay, I admit I blew my stack (and at first mistook the second commenter for the one who told the story, I was that mad). Because, what the fuck, you hear a story about someone whose business is failing because of some simple thing (in this case, bad coffee), and your answer to a question as to whether or not anyone had ever told him what the problem was that there was no reason to tell him because “it’s nobody else’s responsibility to keep him in business“????

See, this is why so many people are against capitalism and the “free” market. Because they see this sort of “fuck you, I’ve got mine, I don’t care if you starve” attitude from too many of its proponents, this attitude that even if you do everything right one tiny mistake OR EVEN unforeseen shit happening like a hurricane or other natural disaster wiping you out means your business should fail and you should crawl off into a hole and die, this dog-eat-dog nasty-ass treatment of other people, and of course they start looking at socialism, communism, anything communitarian that seems to promise a system where people won’t be treated like disposable garbage. What the fuck do you expect? I mean seriously, what the fuck?


15 thoughts on “The Free Market Is Not A Free-For-All

  1. Hi Andrea…love the post..especially the Tags you used 🙂 lets face it…socialism/communism can never work because our basic instinct is to be obnoxiously selfish…in other words we are evolutionarily designed to be assholes 🙂

    • Yyyeah…. no, no, actually I don’t believe “evolution” has anything to do with people being assholes. That’s just evo-psych bullshit put out by mostly men and some women to excuse not having to work on their personal and social problems and I’d really like to not have it on my blog, thanks.

    • I’m not going to get into a discussion of evolution and people’s use of it to justify their own behavior – but your statement that our “basic instinct is to be obnoxiously selfish” doesn’t reflect what many people studying evolution think; there are many who contend that we have strong instincts to be social, cooperative and giving (and there’s some interesting research with infants and toddlers indicating that even when they’re that young they have those instincts, even alongside their more selfish behaviors). So even from an evolutionary perspective you can’t just say we’re “designed to be assholes” and leave it at that.

      • I wish that what I said is wrong and that instincts to be social, cooperative and giving do override the ills of society. But if we keep isolated research on the side for a minute and observe events that have unfolded ever since recorded history, doesn’t the selfish nature of entities form the basis of most of them. These entities could be individuals, families, empires or nations. Or is it that history does not give due credit to acts of kindness and social living.
        I would like to state that selfish behavior is unpardonable and no reasoning can truly justify it. However I look at ways to not develop hatred towards someone for what I perceive to be their rude/egoist behavior and trying to identify the root cause of such behavior makes forgiving much easier.

      • History shows a mix of selfish and social cooperativeness; we could never have formed civilization without social cooperativeness; if you study history you’ll find that in many cases individuals who were too selfish and not cooperative enough were eventually killed/exiled/ostracized. There have always been a spectrum of individuals – people who are much more giving, and others who are rapacious, and people in between. The extent to which they can each contribute depends on the general culture too.

        Your post is also a mishmash of concepts – selfishness of an individual is not the same as, say, the selfishness of a family, which isn’t the same as selfishness of a nation (for instance even if a group of people wants to selfishly take from others, they’re individually sacrificing for each other in various ways); it’s a heck of a lot more complex than “hey, each man for himself.” Also history itself isn’t a pure reflection of biological evolution; culture and the values we’re steeped in are so very important – we aren’t apes (who, by the way also have strong social instincts alongside their selfishness).

        So no, you’re not going to find the root cause of a particular individual’s selfish behavior – like not telling someone their coffee can be improved because it’s not their business and who cares if the business owner fails – by just saying, “we’re all hardwired to be assholes” unless you want an easy answer that completely leaves out individual character and general culture (and the research I mentioned earlier isn’t isolated – it’s part of a growing body of work – not to mention you can look more closely around you at all the people who volunteer and do other things without obvious material benefit). You could argue that treating other people well might benefit you, your family and community as well – but that’s a “selfishness” of a different sort than you’re describing and doesn’t necessarily account for everything either.

        Ok, I’ve gone on enough, and I promise I won’t post on this thread again. If you want to continue this discussion by email, it’s: silloftheworld (at)

      • Hey I’ve got nothing against continuing the discussion here. I’m finding it interesting. Just no name-calling etc. You know.

      • It occurs to me that you might be intimidated by my not wanting evo-psych bullshit on my blog. I’ll just amend that to I don’t want it presented here as if it were accepted, established fact. Because it isn’t. But debate is okay as long as arguments don’t get circular.

    • Ok, thanks for clarifying. I was concerned about pushing the discussion too much into evolution and maybe off topic, when your post was talking about people’s behavior and perceptions of economic systems. And given that I was writing the previous comment during a bout of insomnia, a little voice in my head was saying, “You need to just shut up and go to sleep already.” It wasn’t intimidation about evo-psych, which I’m also skeptical about – not least because of the way it’s so often presented by people who want to use science-y sounding justifications to dehumanize others.

  2. Maybe he just had one long run of people coming in, trying their coffee, and deciding that they would come off as a dick if they just declared that the coffee sucked, and so left and tried another place next time. I guess if you could take the coffee back to the counter and ask nicely if they had a fresh pot, because this tastes like it had spent too much time on the warmer, that would work. Or an unsigned note shoved throught the mail slot after they close up and go home for the night. Most of the time I figure that no one’s interested in my two cents anyway.

    And while the bad coffee might be a simple thing, it’s also the reason the shop has sign on it that says “Coffee shop”. I would most likely figure that the owner isn’t ignoring the firm’s reason for existing–who would open up a coffee shop and not pay attention to the coffee? I’d just assume competence on the part of the owner, and I wouldn’t want to go hurting anyone’s feelings. The restaurant business is heartbreaking enough as it is. Maybe I could bring myself to say something if the owner were a friend of mine.

    That guy could have expressed his thought a little more pleasantly. If he was trying to make the argument that competition is good because it raises the quality of goods and services, he did it with a hectoring, condescending tone. Perhaps he’s the sort who derives happiness from pronouncing upon things. Don’t let this puke make you turn commie, I beg you.

    • Maybe yes, maybe no, but I’m not psychic, so I have no idea what really went on. That’s what my initial question was for, to try to get more information so I could understand what happened.

      “Don’t let this puke make you turn commie, I beg you.”

      Is that like what Cartman said to Scott the gay dog on South Park? “Don’t be gay, Scott! Don’t be gay!”

      Seriously, don’t patronize me. I’m 49 years old, and not only do I remember what it was like during the Cold War, I knew people who had fled communist countries. Remember I was born and raised in Miami, Florida. I am no more inclined to “turn commie” than I am to convert to Scientology.

      That being said, I think for myself, and I know that for most people, an abstract lecture on the benefits of capitalism over socialism isn’t good enough. It’s not good enough to wipe out the shit caused by big business. It’s not good enough to excuse the basically inhuman treatment of the poor and people who, for whatever reason, don’t have the ability to hustle and be successful in the cutthroat world of the free market. It doesn’t excuse a culture that is okay with the idea of a free market that is a “cutthroat world.” It doesn’t excuse the shunting off of ideas like treating people like human beings into the “private sphere” — that is, where no one has to hear about it. It doesn’t excuse the attempt to separate human existence into boxes, where you’re a “wonderful family man” who treats strangers and neighbors and anyone who isn’t related to you by blood or marriage as if they were enemies. It doesn’t excuse having to live in modern times as if we were still barbarian tribes in the forest.

      So someone comes along talking about togetherness, and brotherhood, and working together, and helping the poor (and all of this, by the way, without the trappings of religion so it’s inclusive of other cultures in a way that, say, Christianity isn’t because it doesn’t demand you dress a certain way and worry about things you can’t see like God or Heaven), and they go for it like starving people go for bread. The need to not be treated like shit blows away any “you might get rich some day.” That is what free market proponents haven’t confronted in any useful way as far as I can tell.

  3. Pingback: » Oh, and your coffee sucks

  4. Hmmm. On one hand I’m with you: tell the guy his coffee is terrible. On the other hand I don’t think I’ve ever done that. I have gotten a few bad cups of coffee, but if I get one I generally don’t go back.

    I agree with your last paragraph one thousand percent.

    • Yes but this person went back at least once, and things were the same. That’s why I asked. The entire account, by the way it was told, was to illustrate the cluelessness of the owner, so I had to wonder if anyone had ever tried to clue him in.

  5. Some lessons are learned the hard way, however. There is the long-held standard of politeness that should not be interpreted as a passive-aggressive “fuck you, I’ve got mine” attitude. Our inner dialogues say, “not my business, free advice is unwelcome, it was just coffee and it’s not worth creating drama about it, cheap lesson that cost me 3 bucks and I won’t come back.”

    If someone is going to lay out some serious cash to start a business, they should be filled with ass-clentching concern about quality. Like Chef Ramsay having to exhort so many young upstarts in a kitchen to “taste everything!!” Seen it over and over in his restaurant rescues: chefs that never taste their own food. It’s stupidity, thinning out the herd.

    • Look. Once again, you’re assuming a whole bunch of shit. I have no idea whether or not the guy was aware of his bad coffee. Neither do you. Neither, apparently, does anyone. Or at least, neither did anyone, because instead of answering my simple question (even with “I don’t know”), someone else popped in with their opinion, which basically dismissed my question as irrelevant because what’s more important is that people “fail” as some sort of “lesson.”

      Fuck, this isn’t school. These are real people here, seeing their investment of at least thousands of dollars vanish. And none of your speeches about how much “ass-clenching concern” (how do you measure that, by the way? Is there some sort of sphincter gauge you use to determine how much the ass is clenched to pass the test?) the person “should” have had matter because that person isn’t you. You have no right to stand in judgment over someone else’s failures when you don’t have all the facts. But that’s the sort of culture we have. At the base of it is, of course, our own fear — because we know that no one will back us up if we fail, they’ll be too busy patting themselves on the back for just knowing what we should have done to save ourselves. You reap what you sow goes both ways after all.

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