Market forces are being discussed everywhere. Although many academics, columnists and politicians are extremely critical, most of the general public has a much more nuanced opinion about market forces.
‘It’s important in the social debate about market forces to listen not only to the highfalutin ideological stories of columnists and politicians but also to the down-to-earth opinion of the general public’, thinks Marc Hertogh of the University of Groningen. He bases his view on the results of a questionnaire sent to over 300 members of the Dutch public. The research was conducted within the framework of the founding of the Netherlands Institute for Law and Governance (NILG), a new institute that will concern itself with legal research into the relationship between public and private interests.
The research has revealed that the general public is slightly positive about market forces. Half of those questioned think that in recent years the government has transferred too many tasks to the business world. However, the other half either does not agree or doesn’t care. In addition, a large majority thinks that many things can be left to the business world, as long as government keeps a wary eye on things. In general, the public are satisfied with their current health insurance company, their energy supplier and their bank.
Although the current discussion on market forces is often conducted in ideological terms, the general public is much more pragmatic about the relationship between public and private interests. They are certainly not blind to the disadvantages of market forces, but at the same time they emphasize the disadvantages of too much government intervention. Many of the general public are not for or against market forces on principle but judge each concrete case on its own merits. With public order and security and for health care, most of the general public are clearly in favour of government control. However, for the telecom sector and the postal services, market forces are more popular.
Despite the credit crisis, most of the general public do not think that government should be completely in control of the banking sector. Most of them would prefer a situation whereby government and market work together; however, a large section of the public still thinks that banks should be in complete charge of their own affairs. Most people regard investments and the quality of the accessibility of financial services as a task for the financial sector itself.
Market forces are often discussed in black and white terms. You are either for or against market forces – and neither side wants to be mixed much with the other. However, most of the general public are clearly in favour of more ‘mixed’ types of regulation. In many important social fields, such as care of the elderly or the disabled, the security of the gas and electricity grids and the provision of loans and mortgages, the public feels that it should not be either the market or the government that has a say but both. In addition, eight out of ten Dutch people think that the government should work together with the business world more. In other words, the general public does not choose either the market or the government but the best of both worlds.
Marc Hertogh (1968) is Professor of Sociology of Law at the Faculty of Law of the University of Groningen. He studied law in Leiden and gained his PhD there in 1997. Before he was appointed in Groningen in 2005 he worked as a postdoc, university lecturer and university reader at the University of Tilburg. His research concentrates on the social experience of law and governance.
More information: Prof. Marc Hertogh, tel. 06 520 37 530
The research was conducted within the framework of the founding of the Netherlands Institute for Law and Governance (NILG), a cooperation between the University of Groningen and VU University Amsterdam (see NILG)
The results of the research will be discussed along with several other partial studies during the congress ‘Publiek/privaat: vervlechten of ontvlechten?’ [Public/private: interweave or disentangle?] to be held on 16 November 2009 in Groningen. For more information please see the NILG-congresbundel .
Van de Faculteit Rechtsgeleerdheid zijn zes medewerkers genomineerd voor de Magna Charta Publieksprijs 2019.
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