Thinking about recent trade negotiations in light of E. F. Schumacher’s book Small Is Beautiful (1973), I wrote the following notes. —JGM

The problem lies not with markets or capitalism per se, but with particular markets whose agents (large corporations) use whatever power their position provides to dominate the passive human chattel known as customers (who cannot provide themselves with alternatives to products deemed essential for life), taxpayers (who are obliged to bail out businesses too big to fail), and employees (who owe their lives and livelihood to large corporations in which they have no individual power worth anything).

Education, in the parlance of the large corporation, becomes the cultivation of skills useful to large corporations–not individuals, who would prefer not to owe their souls to the company that does not value them as agents.

Education should provide people–individuals–with tools that allow them to avoid becoming subservient to corporations (i.e. to become independent, free, productive in their own right). Instead, it trains people to become domestic animals for the corporation (good dairy cows who let the corporation milk them until they run dry and are put down to make tasty beef).

A job is only safe for me if I possess the tools to get by without it. If I owe my life to my job, then I cannot truly exist as a free person. It is not that I have the right to material success (I might fail on my own and starve, as a free man: this happened quite a bit back in the day, and it still happens now), but that I want the capacity to do something meaningful when it comes to making the decisions that determine whatever success I have.

I don’t want to be obliged by law or training to support companies whose business strikes me as evil, immoral, or otherwise wrong. I want to associate freely with people whose values I can support. I want to be valued as an agent, and to deal with agents (personal agents), not corporate policies that sound great on paper (“everyone must have a college degree, a home, state-of-the-art healthcare, etc., etc.”) but translate into horrible practical realities (“everyone must go into debt, have a job, and spend most of their time and earnings garnishing the retirement fund for professional pirates in Washington and on Wall Street, etc., etc.”). Small business is good at being ethical (because its evils fail to become entrenched across entire markets: companies with little balance sheets go under all the time). Big business is bad (because its evils become inescapable fixtures of the market: companies with gigantic balance sheets refuse to die).

—Joseph Miller