Alternatives to capitalism: Cosmos and Taxis

One of SPEAK's major campaigns over the years has been a call for greater corporate responsibility; as a network we intend to call on government and business to create fairer rules for workers and producers alike. Mike Bourne takes a look at how changing market objectives would create a more natural and spontaneous was of life.

I’m gonna save explaining the title until the end, because the explanation’s a bit dull, and if I put it all in the first paragraph you probably wouldn’t read any more. In short, it’s about spontaneity and direction, top-down and bottom-up, organic and manufactured.


Years ago, a big-name economic thinker suggested that natural, spontaneous orders (the water cycle, for example) do not have specific goals; they can achieve a lot but they do not have a pre-defined objective, nor a definition of ‘success’. They are instead made up of a number of components doing what comes naturally to them; Adam Smith (and others), translated this into human terms with his (in)famous ‘invisible hand of the market’**. In contrast, orders (or systems) which are deliberately created (the Women’s Institute, for example, though I’ve no idea why that was the first thing that sprang to mind) have an objective and a common goal which unites those taking part. These orders are often directed by some kind of hierarchy, which supposedly dictate how best to achieve the purpose for which the thing was set up.

With this in mind, and deeply connected, I’ve been thinking about the increasing popularity of small-scale economic alternatives to capitalism. There are many participating in such alternatives with a common purpose (the overthrow of capitalism) but one factor in their increasing popularity is that there are now many people participating not for ideological reasons, but because it makes sense. For example, if you are unemployed, and hence have a lot of free time, but not much money, you’ll be much more inclined to offer your time in exchange for the necessities of life, than your money. Capitalism wants to put a monetary price on everything (including, incidentally, time) so in this sort of exchange you’re (metaphorically) giving capitalism the finger, and saying “If you won’t help support me, I won’t help support you”. The key is that you’re not doing this because you hate capitalism, but because it’s the best thing to do. Smith’s Invisible Hand is, in fact, pushing you away from the market.


I’m just beginning to think about this, so I may write more later, but I should explain the title. It’s not (directly) about the universe or private transport, instead “Cosmos” and “Taxis” are Greek words, the first of which refers to a system or order that has come into being naturally and spontaneously while the second refers to one which has been deliberately constructed. They are also the title of a chapter in a book by F.A. Hayek where he writes about these two types of order. Hayek liked markets and didn’t like Socialism. See? Dull.



By Mike Bourne

** To read more about 'the invisible hand of the market - visit