Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, August 27, 2010 8:18 pm

What we talk about when we talk about “free markets”

John Cole at Balloon Juice thinks out loud and raises some interesting questions about whether we’re all on the same page:

Something I’ve been tossing around the last couple of days … is that it has occurred to me there are differing conceptions of the free market. To me, when I say the free market, I think of people being able to freely and openly share their wares, to purchase what they want and need, and with some degree of happiness on both the buyer and seller’s end.

It seems to me, though, that the folks who most discuss the free market and are the biggest free market advocates just don’t see things that way. They sort of view things much like the “pain caucus,” who seem to be [incapable] of thinking a policy is acceptable unless a majority of the nation [suffers] in the name of patriotism and fiscal responsibility. Instead of viewing the “free market” as I have described it, their vision of the free market is an economy in which those with power are able to freely [screw] over everyone else. The free market needs energy, so those of you living in towns with your water polluted by mine runoff can [just deal with it], because any government intervention messes up the “free market.” The market demands oil, so Allah forbid we get in the way of oil spills that might ruin the Gulf forever — witness the freakout over a mild cessation in deep sea drilling by “free market” advocates. The free market advocates that there be Randian geniuses who vacation at the Hamptons after fleecing people who tried to do the right thing investing.

In short, it has become obvious to me (belatedly), that when a lot of free market advocates talk about the free market, what they mean is the right to [cheat] people with no recourse. Hey — you should have invested better! Hey — you should have known those Iowa eggs were [contaminated]! It seems as if in their minds (and I’m thinking of total [jerks] like Welch, Gillespie, and McMegan), there simply can not be a free market unless someone is getting screwed, which is completely contrary to my understanding of the “free market.” In my understanding of the free market, things are a win/win scenario, not a tilted table with a win/lose situation where the winner is predetermined by influence and power and connections and societal standing.

The explanation, of course, is that we don’t have free markets. We have crony capitalism, and we have unprosecuted theft of money, goods and services, but we don’t have free markets. Everyone in a position to do anything about this knows it and refuses to do anything about it, either because they’re getting a piece of the action or they hope to someday.


Blog at

%d bloggers like this: