Market Citizenship: Experiments in Democracy and Globalization


Amanda Root

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    In memory of Richard Sexton 1960–2006

    Co-founder of COIN: the Climate Outreach and Information Network

    We are shaped by our history and biology to frame our plans within the short term, within the scale of a single lifetime. Now we are asked to address the well-being of unborn individuals we will never meet and who, contrary to the usual terms of human interaction, will not be returning the favour…

    Ian McEwan


    While I was writing this book my 15-year-old daughter was mugged. She was walking down the street on a balmy Saturday evening in summer at about nine p.m. to go to our local shops. Two women grabbed her arms and demanded her money (which was under 10 pounds), saying they would knife her if she didn't give them what they asked for.

    Some people who were hanging out of their house windows chatting to others on the pavement saw that something unusual was going on. They challenged the muggers, asking my daughter if she was all right. The assailants replied on my daughter's behalf, saying they were taking her home as she'd had too much to drink. Those watching did not believe them and rang the police. So the police knew about the crime before my daughter ran home, banging on our front door to be let in.

    Why did these people bother to get involved? They could have tiptoed (or even sauntered) inside their house and quietly shut the door, pretending they had seen nothing. Yet they not only bothered to phone the police, they also suggested some names of possible suspects. This was a simple but profound act of citizenship — of solidarity and taking responsibility for others even when you did not know them. It involved, in the naming of possible suspects, putting the interests of justice ahead of those of these people's own wider networks of friends or acquaintances.

    I am deeply grateful that these neighbours bothered to help my daughter and also somewhat puzzled by their actions. The puzzlement arises because these people were homeless and were living in temporary accommodation provided for them by the state. So it could be argued that they had little stake in supporting members of my household as we constitute a visibly different group to them: as affluent, home-owning residents. This story illustrates, albeit through a personal and anecdotal account, that certain important and positive elements of citizenship survive. This is something, perhaps, that it is easy to forget, when faced with the all too common atrocities inflicted on people who are stateless, or have few or no entitlements, and in the perpetuation of hunger and poverty, environmental destruction and violence.

    There is yet another twist to this tale. The police initially summoned these witnesses from my street on a day when the video, to be used for the identification of suspects, was not ready. Then there was confusion about the rescheduling of the identification process. My helpful neighbours did not turn up for any of the identification activities. So despite the police knowing the names of possible suspects, the criminal investigation was not, as far as I know, taken further and no one was charged for the crime.

    In other respects, the police behaved in an exemplary manner in relation to my daughter's case. My locality had been identified as one in which there was a higher than average level of street crime, so they had extra resources to use in this instance. These included sending her out in one of two police cars to tour the area afterwards to see whether they could find the perpetrators and providing a woman police officer to take my daughter's statement.

    Citizenship is, in broad sense, about taking responsibility for others. The outcomes of such acts of responsibility differ, however, according to the contexts in which they happen. Acts of altruism — like intervening to help my daughter — require us to care about strangers. The question that faces us all is how to make more of the desired outcomes happen and fewer of the non-desirable ones. This book is about the new and powerful social forces that presume that citizens can and should be motivated by self interest, that is as market customers, in quantifiable exchanges. Enlightened self interest is the basis of market transactions, that is, exchanges based on supply and demand. But to what extent can markets be used to motivate citizens? How much do people or organizations motivated by profit care for the vulnerable or for the environment? We are witnessing a profound experiment in changing the basis of citizenship and the state from collectivist visions of self-interest to individualized self-interest. It is the resulting paradox of citizens being told they have more freedom but actually, judging by a variety of evidence, experiencing less, that is explored here.


    Thanks to Chris Rojek for having the faith to commission this book and for generously sharing his editorial and authorial expertise. Thanks also to Mila Steele for invaluable advice and untiring support throughout. My gratitude is also due to NewGen for fastidious sub-editing.

    Thanks to my colleagues at Oxford University Centre for the Environment for generously putting up with my preoccupation with this book, and to Professor Gordon L. Clark for starting and nurturing my interest in markets.

    Special thanks to Martin Stott, my partner, who has offered ideas and inspiration in generous measure, as well as putting up with my absences when writing. Thanks to my daughters Nadine and Alice for growing up so beautifully despite benign neglect, for their ideas and advice and help with the bibiography.

    Thanks to Mary Langan, for heroically reading a draft and offering useful comments. Also thanks to John and Rosemary Whitely for sharing their knowledge about Athenian citizenship.

    Last but not least, I am grateful to the Institute of Public Policy Research for inviting me to serve on the Commission on Public Private Partnerships, which offered unique insights into markets and citizenship.

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