Citizens in a Market-Driven State

As the state become increasingly market-driven, the meaning of citizenship is changing. From Disciplining the Poor: 

As the state is privatized, so too are the social problems of the citizenry. Matters of shared consequence, once addressed through public decisions about how to organize collective life, are recast as personal problems to be solved through rational individual choices. The democratic citizen, positioned as one who must act in concert with others to achieve preferred outcomes, is redefined as a consumer, worker, and taxpaying customer of the state. Citizens, in this guise, are investors who have a contractual right to expect efficient state services that produce returns. They are repositioned, through vouchers and choice programs, as individual consumers who pursue better outcomes by seeking goods from other providers (exit) rather than as co-participants deliberating and acting together to improve their shared institutions (voice). They are encouraged to help others, not by deciding how to organize their communities in a just manner, but by pursuing individual work as volunteers, charitable givers, and virtuous providers of services (Crenson and Ginsberg 2002). The competent and self-reliant market actor – working, investing, choosing, and assessing returns – is made synonymous with the good citizen.

There are lots of implications of this shift, but I’ll stick with three quick ones:

  1. The individual who fails as an economic actor fails also as a moral and civic one. This is a problem, because perfectly nice and wonderful people can be terrible economic actors. Our current economic system can at times reward excessive risk taking as well as greed and a general lack of concern for others. 
  2. Social problems are viewed through the prism of individual choice. The emphasis become placed on why individuals drop out of school and not why the school system has so many drop-outs. The increasingly unhealthy diet and exercise patterns across the U.S.  is another excellent example. Instead of reflecting on the inevitable result of a culture that bombards us with advertising and the availability of sugars and fats that we are genetically programmed to desire, we blame individuals for lacking self-discipline.
  3. The state becomes paternalistic in an effort to form disciplined market actors and increase market efficiency. This is part of why welfare, which was historically designed to allow single women to stay home and raise children was transformed into workfare. The goal of the state becomes to encourage work, increase GDP, reduce unemployment etc. etc. The citizen as a member of a community collectively deliberating for the common good is lost and replaced by the individual economic actor who is formed to meet state and market goals.

3 thoughts on “Citizens in a Market-Driven State

  1. you always keep me thinking Nate. A coupl of things about point two.

    1) I have had the good fortune to become close friends with some Health at Every Size activists, and as such object to the term “Obesity Epidemic.” The way we eat s a culture is problematic for sure, and this is made worse by the the factors you listed, but to list obesity as an ilness is to play into the hands of the same media (and it’s misogynistic ideas about women) that are selling us the fat and the sugar in the first place. I know you are a person of good will, so maybe consider that usage before repeating it.

    2)The factors in point two are made even worse as they people who sell the cheaply produced fats and sugars drive the healthier options out of business and create “food deserts” where low income citiens can’t find anything BUT said fats and sugars.

    • While my use of ‘obesity epidemic’ is a medical term, my main point is simply that obesity is culturally driven. You are correct that by using obesity as a short-hand to point to the results of unhealthy eating I am oversimplifying and possibly tacitly supporting unhealthy body images. On the other hand, the medical community does argue that past a certain point being overweight is unhealthy simply by placing so much extra strain on the body. While we have too much media and advertising causing unhealthy body images, I am not convinced that it is completely misguided to focus on weight as one of many health indicators including cardiovascular fitness, strength, cholesterol etc. (For whatever it’s worth on a personal note my BMI places me as obese, so I do have personal as well as intellectual buy-in to the idea that weight and BMI are not the only measures that matter.) With all that said, I have changed the blog to “increasingly unhealthy diet and exercise patterns” as pointing to the underlying causes of lack of health rather than one symptom (and a symptom that can have other causes as well) is more precise and relevant. I will have to think more about how we talk about obesity in both a medical and cultural sense.

  2. I see obesity as a primarilly market driven phenomonen. Albeit in a pretty much schizoid inducing / producing manner. I precieve ” big business” as a one hand beckoning and the other holding off. The fast food commercial followed by the willowy blonde fem accompanied by the statuesque stud shilling for …. well.. anything… morphing into a drug company advert for pharmacutical weight contrtol. So the message is eat up … look gorgeous …. take drugs to achieve your programmed , haha, needs / goals………. hmmmm,….. I’ll agree with you are what you eat .. I ‘ll add ” You respond to what you are shown”: ….. mixed messages are frustrating …… frustration leads to “I have to do something to feel better about myself”, ,ahh yes, retail therapy, consumption……. from chocolate to Cadillacs ……. corporations win ….. Don’t get me wrong , it all involves personal choice, but the credit card and enter button are are ubiquitous…….
    Simplistic … yes … but I have found fundamentals to be generally simple……
    I am put in mind of the old saw ” You can fleece a sheep regularly . But you can skin it only once”.
    Perhaps PETA should look at how people are treated………… The more things change the more they stay the same…. bread and circuses…

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