Capitalism as we know it is pretty simple, free-market economics operating in a democratic society with some regulations. This is essentially western capitalism. Capitalism can work in different cultures that might not praise individualism as western countries might. Capitalism in certain Asian countries can flourish and be more laissez-faire than they are in highly capitalistic western nations. A night market is a great example of this.
The night market is a common place to visit for plenty of city folk in China, as well as Taiwan. I grew up in Taiwan and went to my fair share of night markets. Given enough time and some common sense, you could find just about anything you needed at a night market and could bargain for better prices than you’ll ever find in any retail environment.
The beauty of a night market is not only for its abundance of goods and services to choose from, but also its easy to enter market opportunities for just about any person with an entrepreneurial spirit. Plenty of people, both young and old, use the night market for a primary source of income if they can sustain a good customer base and provide a consistently valuable product. There’s also a lot of individuals who use the night market as a transitioning “job” for means of sustaining some income while looking for their next career path.
What makes the night market in Asia so unique, especially in China and Taiwan, is the culture that this almost ancap environment operates without the need for really any regulation, price controls, or licensing. While I knew of Taiwan having an “official policy” on street vendors and kiosks in the night market, there were plenty of businesses who would “get away with” setting up shop just about anywhere in the market to make a few bucks on the night.
A young guy who either got let go or quit a job, through the cultural norms of a work ethic, a basic sense for cooking (as most Taiwanese had), a cheap food cart, some basic ingredients, and a little stick-to-it-ness can sustain a small stream of income while looking for a new job. In some cases, these individuals can just go full-time in expanding and building onto their skills and create a better food cart with more varieties, and even come up with a secret recipe or two. After a few months, the man is a popular fixture of the night market making more money than he made at his last job while saving money on taxes and licensing we Americans might need to deal with to do the same thing.
It is truly a curious case for libertarians to study and experience themselves to get a broader perspective on capitalism outside the western world. While we’re here in America debating the issues around taxes on small businesses and the states each pulling more and more licensing “requirements” purely for the sake of generating revenue, capitalism in a purer form is functioning just fine in a culture that can wield it’s potential due to the praise of a more communal mindset versus American individualism.
Upon further examination, one can deduce that a purely capitalistic system can flourish better in an environment with a culture that encourages hard work in a way that is different from the work ethic perpetuated in American culture. It’s a tricky thing to put your finger on, but when you see it, you will know why it works. Taiwan and China, a socialist country and a communist country, both with different cultures, are somehow brewing crucibles of capitalism that beat American/Western capitalism. How that is, is something that will take a culture shift for us to experience.
You can read more from Amos Joseph on Think Liberty here.