Mon, May

To blame our market women is to misunderstand society

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I think we have come too far as a sociologically literate society to be making the same old mistakes. We must pause and retake a more critical look at such socioeconomic phenomena;

Lately in both traditional and social media, are hateful sentiments being directed at market women in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. Their crime? For hiking prices in the face of increasing demand.

Now, anyone with a basic appreciation of how a lot of societies are structured nowadays, i.e. where supply and demand forces are allowed to drive the markets freely, will not be harsh on these market women. Because as far as they are concerned, they’re applying a basic economic principle; when demand goes up, and supply is low, prices rise in tandem. So it’s unfortunate that these women are being harangued and called names for applying the economic principles we pay money to go and study in the classroom.

Many forget that the behaviour of these market women isn’t exclusive to their domain. About a decade and a half or so ago, Mobile Phones and even phone chips were quite pricey items; until supply and competition tampered prices down. Why is it rational for telecom companies to apply this sort of model, but not market women? Are they all not businesses?

However, the scenario I describe above is representative of the markets in their fundamentally free and unencumbered form; what’s called the Laissez faire model. Elsewhere, all manner of mechanisms are put in place to ensure that the Markets are not allowed to run in such uninhibited and organic manner; come hail or high water. But in most African countries where market and regulatory institutions are still inchoate, apart from sectors where the State has direct or vested interests, the market is essentially an end in itself; where supply, demand, competition, oligarchy tendencies etc. evolve in and by themselves; painting a picture of the classic laissez faire paradigm.

This explains why prices fluctuate or stay same without measure nor science in these parts. As such, the behaviour of the market women or their response to the bumper demands is what’s the acceptable characteristic of the nature of the market system we operate. To castigate them unreservedly is to play ostrich, or develop convenient amnesia, about the market and economic model we have adopted for ourselves in Ghana.

Their behaviour thus exposes the internal contradictions that bedevil the markets in our parts, especially when strained; which if not tackled holistically closes up on all our necks like a noose: as is currently manifesting through these “market women”.

So my take away from this experience is; why single out the market women now, when actually there’s a systemic problem which their behaviour must draw our attention to? Remember these hikes begun with hand sanitizer sales and now to the markets. So by now it must be clear that, this involuntary commercial response or attitude is easily transferable from one sector to another in our economy; depending on how and where the winds of demand blow.

So I suppose we take a systemic look at the problem as others like Ernesto Yeboah have diagnosed; rather than making the market women scapegoats; simply because events have collided to render a more pronounced scenario of a common systemic behaviour in their domain.

While I’d have loved the Market Women to act like the Cuban Doctors, who didn’t immediately put a premium on Doctors-for- hire around the world, we must face the fact that these market women do not have the same world view like the Cubans. The Cuban system operates from an entirely different economic paradigm. The system and economic consciousness within which the market women in Ghana operate calls for the exact behaviour they are demonstrating: When demand is high and supply is low, prices shoot up. So why have they all of a sudden become evil? For living up to the only reality they know?

You see, in these events, we do not take time to analyse the Social psychology that drives people, or get’s them to act or behave in certain collective social manners. I bet you that if you were in dire need and approached any of those market women privately for support, the chances are 8 out of 10 will go out of their way to help. Because these very same “women” we rail against, under the influence of herd mentality, are our aunties, mothers, wives, girlfriends, brothers, uncles, and other loved ones. But the sort of markets they know, and the psychology of it, immediately dictates that when demand is high, prices go up proportionately.

The only way to have averted that spontaneous response from the market women and other such groups should have come from leadership. A conscious message, right from the Presidency, through Local Authorities through to Market Queens would have sensitized them about the need to act in ways that won’t make the current crisis dire on customers and others, by way of pricing, sanitation and how they handle their wares.

But we take the above measures for granted and suppose the people should know and assume behavioural change by default, just as the crisis unfolds. But a little understanding of social psychology teaches us that this is a very flawed assumption.

So in the end, the failure of proper social analyses and leadership is immediately heaped on the group in question, from within which the said undesirable incipient social behavior is crested. And the common fall back for the other end of the masses is compulsive scapegoating. But such miscellaneous scapegoating is a most dangerous and socially insidious phenomenon which hasn’t only resulted in genocides elsewhere, but was at the roots of the brutalities that the AFRC meted out to market women in this same country some decades ago.

I think we have come too far as a sociologically literate society to be making the same old mistakes. We must pause and retake a more critical look at such socioeconomic phenomena; in order to address them properly, fairly, and sustainably


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