Chefs, families, supermarket representatives, and all other types of person who might wish to purchase rice, were sat at rows upon rows of desks at the far end of The Hall Of Equilibrium. They were filling out Form 41A, regarding the ways in which the price per kilogram might affect the amount of rice that they would purchase that day.
The hall also contained farmers, wholesalers, supermarket representatives, and all other types of person who might wish to sell rice. They were sat at their own rows upon rows of desks, where they were filling out Form 41B, regarding the ways in which the price per kilogram might affect the amount of rice they would produce and sell that day.
The bell rang, their forms were collected and processed, and the day’s supply-demand curve for rice was distributed to the world. Trading began.
Welcome to The Free Market.
Mr. Smith’s tiny phone rang for the first time in 6 business days.
He answered it and listened to 24 seconds of instructions and background information. He replaced the tiny phone onto his desk. He shuffled back his compact chair and stood halfway up, making sure not to disturb the sharp creases in his sharp suit. Hunched over beneath his office’s extremely low ceiling, he located his coat, hat, and briefcase. He bent down further to open his squat filing cabinet, and located some professional tools. He weighed up several devices, feeling their heft and balance, before settling on two. Satisfied, he placed them into his briefcase and snapped it shut. He shuffled towards his office’s cramped door and ducked out.
Mr. Smith’s office was part of a very small and simple complex. It was 4 stories high. Not very much went on inside it, and it was a rare day that Mr. Smith was asked to do anything at all. He spent most of his time sitting quietly on his miniature chair behind his miniature desk, being careful not to stray where he was neither wanted nor needed, and not to hit his head on the ceiling. However, today his services were required. And he was good at his job.
Mr. Smith worked for The Free Market’s Small Government. The Small Government had very few responsibilities, including and limited to the protection of individuals from aggression, theft, breach of contract and fraud, and ensuring the efficient working of The Free Market. It consists of military, police, courts and a small executive branch; some believe that it also has fire department and prison systems, although there is some debate about this.
Mr. Smith was the head and sole employee of the Ministry of Finance, and it was in this capacity that he left the diminutive offices of The Small Government and walked towards The Free Market. He wondered what he should have for lunch, before deciding that he needn’t worry. The Market would decide.
Mr. Smith entered The Free Market, and was immediately enveloped by the usual cloud of suspicion and distrust that followed him everywhere as an agent of the Small Government. He was accused of violating personal autonomy four times within his first thirteen steps. He walked past several games of Healthy Free Market Competition, or “Blotch” as it is better known. Blotch is a cross between badminton and laissez-faire capitalism, and it is what makes This Country great.
On the first court, a manufacturer of durable and high-performing but expensive lawnmowers was dueling it out against a manufacturer of lower-quality but cheaper alternatives. Mr. Smith watched a few rallies; the low-quality manufacturer appeared to be winning by a slim margin, but the global trend towards urban, high-rise living was gradually shrinking the very dimensions of the court. In the next-door game, a judge ruled that a mobile phone manufacturer’s factory conditions “met minimum human rights standards”, and a CEO in an expensive V-neck delivered a resounding smash shot, placing the shuttlecock well out of the reach of his opposite number.
The Market decided that Mr. Smith would purchase a coffee and a bagel in the nearest coffee shop. He walked in and asked the well-groomed, discretely tattooed intellectual behind the counter how his day was going. He learned that it was in fact going poorly; another local coffee shop had closed down yesterday, flooding the market with a slight surplus of well-groomed, discretely tattooed intellectuals. His wages had dropped by 26% overnight, and he was having to update his consumption choices.
“Still, I can’t complain, since this is a contract between consenting, autonomous parties.”
Mr. Smith empathized and purchased a bagel with cream cheese and a latte with soy milk. Soy milk was a $0.21 surcharge, well below the maximum $0.28 that he would have paid, not accounting for the gross moral hazard entailed by the Small Government picking up his work expenses. He found a table and sipped his consumer surplus as he listened to the hum of nearby tables and the world.
“I prefer 3 barrels of oil to the complete works of Dwayne Johnson on Blue Ray.” “If the price of salt were to triple, my levels of salt consumption would barely change.” “I would work 2.3% less hard if tax rates increased by 0.12%.”
Mr. Smith gazed out of the window. The coffee shop was on the edge of The Free Market, and looked out into A Planned Economy next door. He could see The Central Planner calculating where to distribute The Economy’s resources today. Even from a distance it was clear that she was making a lot of mistakes. 8.1 tonnes of tin were sent to a factory that could have created 92% of the value using only 6.5 tonnes of copper, whilst a second factory that could have made productive use of 4.2 tonnes of tin received a mere 2.4 tonnes, resulting in only 58% assembly line utilization. The Central Planner also diverted eight point four billion dollars that were going to be spent on marketing a new type of sandwich (with three different types of cheese) to instead go towards research into treatments for multiple sclerosis.
He tuned back into the conversation at the table next to him.
“Have you heard about the sharing economy?”
“I have, but I don’t see why I would want to share my goods and utilities when I could instead rent them out for a profit.”
“You don’t understand, that’s exactly what the sharing economy is!”
“Oh! Well why didn’t you say so the first time? How do I join?”
Mr. Smith looked down at his watch. It was time to go. He left the cafe and took a shortcut through the Bazaar Of Friendship, Where You Can Be Friends With Anyone For The Right Price. Prospective Friends shouted out their qualities, qualifications and reasonable by-the-minute rates. Upmarket Friends proudly and prominently displayed their certifications and celebrity endorsements, whilst cheaper and more abrasive amateurs offered bulk deals and deep discounting for off-peak time slots.
Mr. Smith saw a few Friends who he believed could probably show a person an intellectual yet relaxing time, but as always, stayed focussed on the job. He left the Bazaar Of Friendship, walked past a violent game of Blotch between Nintendo and the Boys And Girls Clubs of America, and stopped in front of a enormous, gelatinous pile of flesh. It towered over and around him, wallowing in a filthy pit of used banknotes and quivering lazily.
Mr. Smith spoke.
“Are you the only Internet Service Provider for the entire of the East Coast of the United States?”
The pile of flesh shrank slightly, trying unsuccessfully to make itself look small and unthreatening.
“No, no, no, we are a general internet company, we have many competitors” it rasped, “For example, many consumers choose to access the internet solely through their mobile phones. We have many competitors, the internet is a hard fought space. Why, there are hundreds of internet companies springing up every second!”
“You are…a monopoly.” The pile of flesh visibly recoiled.
“No, no we are not, how could we be a…monopoly, we are an internet company, there are hundreds of internet companies, the internet is a hard fought space, studies have shown that prices have risen only an acceptable margin faster than cost of living and our customers expect and receive excellent service, they don’t want to use any providers other than us. The internet is a hard fought space. Look, look at these competitors.” It waved an appendage towards a row of assorted dead rodents that appeared, to Mr. Smith’s highly trained eye, to be held in an upright position by small stakes in the ground.
Mr. Smith shook his head, opened his briefcase and took out a small chainsaw. He circled the flesh pile thoughtfully as it screamed, pleaded for mercy, and recited market statistics. He prodded and poked his chainsaw in exactly the right places. Blood and viscera sprayed pleasing crimson patterns on the floor. Occasionally a chunk of flesh detached from the body altogether and fell to the ground. After a few minutes Mr. Smith switched off his professional tool and stepped back. The pile of flesh was anatomized and he was finished. His suit was soaked in fluids; he was glad he had brought a spare. He began packing his professional tool back into his briefcase. Suddenly, each chunk of flesh began to twitch and remould. They tottered around, taking ungainly steps on rapidly-forming proto-limbs. Their stumblings gradually took on a familiar form. The dismembered remains of the flesh pile were playing Blotch. There was competition again.
Mr. Smith pulled out some instruments and took some ambient readings. Prices were falling already. He packed up, allowed himself a small smile, and started the thankless journey back to the offices of The Small Government.