Market forces or social equity?

There’s the ideology of running a country or an organization. Then there’s the practical reality of it. Which do you pay attention to?

Wen-JiabaoThere’s nothing wrong about fighting for freedom around the world.  I love the idea of democracy, and of ensuring that citizens everywhere enjoy the free will to live a rich and full life of their own design.

The irony and tragedy set in when the very idea of a democracy threatens the integrity of a society, and when its free market forces do not truly lead to that free will for all.

I’m not an economist by training or a politician by inclination. But I have experienced economies and policies on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, and this is the lens I view things through.

I see the tremendous potential here in the United States, a country that has ruled the world with its values, military might, technological prowess and media exports since the end of World War II. I hear many from the baby boomer and even Generation X here talk about the good old days, when they could earn a decent wage and enjoy a decent standard of living, when social mores and foreign policies made citizens proud instead of cringe in embarrassment. I see the daily political debates in media outlets here, with political parties digging in their heels instead of finding practical and workable ways forward. I hear citizens shouting on social media, asking us to pay attention to one cause or another, because it means a ton to them and should therefore mean a ton to us.

Meanwhile, all I need to do is walk out my front door to see homelessness firsthand, or to hear the grocery store cashier tell me how it’s getting harder to make ends meet.

Ideologies are great. But they don’t keep food on the table and clothes on your back. And in an environment where wealth is not making its way down the socioeconomic chain, where old-age industries are collapsing and new-age industries are crying out for trained talent, and where poverty is on the rise…relying solely on market forces to determine the distribution of wealth is neither a practical nor a sustainable solution.

In a world that’s more connected and more interdependent than ever before, we need to champion both free markets and a sense of social equity. Whether we run a country or an organization, more people want to know that we, as leaders, care about them and their welfare. This is not about giving citizens or employees a sense of entitlement, or breeding a sense of laziness. I trust that the vast majority of people still hold fast to the value of an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work. Work is also a way to find and exercise meaning in our lives, a reason to get out of bed and feel that you’re making a difference. Caring for our fellow man doesn’t mean we coddle them. It simply means that we treat them as more than cogs in the wheel, and that we see them for the earnest and well-meaning people that they generally are. It means that when we put a humanistic plan into action, whether it’s housing homeless veterans or teaching employees how to manage their stress, we’re doing so because our sense of responsibility extends beyond the bottom line. Same action, deeper and truer intention.

Does this mean that we need to step away from some of our entrenched political or social ideologies? Yes.

Will this end up being better than a zero-sum game, and turn into something that we can honestly say is a win-win for our organizations, our communities, our nation and the entire planet? I believe so. We owe it to ourselves to try.

Here’s some intriguing food for thought. No matter what you may think about their human rights record, or whether you think socialism is a sound ideology, listen to what former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao had to say about their system of governance and market economics, the system that generated 9% growth in their heyday.

Do you think it’s possible for us to honor market forces and create social equity at the same time? Comment below and let me know.

(Featured image from

About the Author

Maya loves life in the innovation lane. An avid student of life, learning & leadership, she has worked and lived on 3 continents, bringing her globally-minded flair to her clients and personal passions.

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