The State of Market Thinking 2005
Brian Gongol

Market thinking isn't just laissez-faire economics; it's the process of judgment that relies on the market -- any place where ideas or goods can be freely exchanged -- to allocate decisions. In some cases, markets may require corrective action; for instance, where the political market for individual freedoms ensures a right to free speech, it may need to provide special protections for unpopular speech that might otherwise be cast out of the market. In general, those who effectively understand and respect the power of markets find that they can harness that power for good and worthwhile causes.

With that in mind, here are four cases in which market thinking is moving forward in 2005, and four opposing cases where it is slipping.

Where Market Thinking Is Advancing Where Market Thinking Is Under Siege
Digital Cameras
Digital cameras are improving in quality and declining in price so quickly that the sheer volume of life which is now photographed dwarfs all of history that has been visually recorded before. Websites like Fotolog, Photoblogs, Buzznet, and Flickr are all part of this phenomenal change, hosting or indexing the work of thousands -- possibly millions -- of individuals around the globe. In an extension of the McDonald's Hypothesis (that nations with market-oriented economies rarely go to war with one another), it could be argued that the explosion in global photo-diaries may very well change the way global neighbors understand one another.
Surveillance Cameras
The proliferation of cameras for surveillance (especially by the government, but also by the private sector) has the tendency to make the young too comfortable about exchanging their liberty to move about unmonitored for the illusion of greater security.
Muhammad Yunus revolutionized the battle against world poverty with the Grameen Bank, which fights poverty not with handouts but with better opportunities for the poor to help themselves. By giving the poor access to capital, Yunus has shown that opportunity and growth through saving and investment can break cycles of poverty. Awareness seems to be growing that conventional development efforts are imperfect at best and that there are better ways of making lives better.
Financial Fraud
From phishing to the Fannie Mae financial crisis, fraudulent (or seriously negligent) behavior is a real threat to the sense of trust that's absolutely necessary for a dynamic market economy to function. Popular trust in business owners and managers is weak and is being weakened further by accounting shenanigans.
Services like CafePress open the publishing market to the world, and the number of individuals now creating and maintaining weblogs is growing at a phenomenal pace. The marketplace of ideas is brimming with activity.
At the same time that traditional sources of news and information are suffering from high-profile credibility problems, no effective method has really emerged for gauging the credibility of self-published authors. Popularity rankings and link measurement tools, as used by Google, Technorati, and Truth Laid Bear are only proxy measurements for credibility, and they have serious shortcomings, like the rich-get-richer problem. The quest for popularity can lead to increasingly vitriolic political rhetoric (since it's a good way to get noticed), but that kind of language rarely leads to solutions.
Personal Savings and Investment
The President's call for private accounts to help offset Social Security, though imperfect, is at least a highly visible acknowledgment that private investment is necessary for a better future.
Eminent Domain
Interest in eminent domain concerns has been piqued lately, bringing attention to a pattern of overuse. The number of active cases involving eminent domain is evidence that market thinking is not winning this battle.