Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Myth of the Free Market

I've been traveling, and now finally the mainstream press are calling 'liar' on Romney and Ryan—who is still more obvious about it.

However, I've been curious about the idea of the 'free market', which actually doesn't make much sense to me. Without government, you don't have much of functioning markets. Even traditional food markets aren't safe. So I asked the question, when did the term 'free market' come into use? The excellent Wikipedia article 'free market' tells the story.

Originally there was the term laissez faire economics. This was actually opposed to Adam Smith, wrongly labelled a free marketeer, as he supported competitive markets and opposed monopolies. If you follow up on the article on laissez faire you will see that originally the term originated when a French government official asked a business man how they could help business, and the business man said 'laissez nous faire', which translates 'let us do,' i.e., let us do whatever we want; leave us alone.

The laissez faire people like Allen Greenspan have argued that you can only have a 'coercive monopoly,' the bad kind that keeps others from competing, if the government backs one player. In other words the wealth of a person or company has no power to distort the market. Ha, ha, ha. Greenspan acknowledged that there was some flaw in his thinking when the financial system collapsed. This is certainly one of those flaws because money enables a person or company to buy out and crush competitors in many ways, as well as corrupt politicians.

The brilliant sales job of renaming laissez faire economics 'free market' economics was Milton Friedman's, in a book called Capitalism and Freedom. What was an idea that it's best that wealthy companies and individuals should be able to dominate small business and individuals suddenly become identified with individual liberty!

Next time someone talks about 'the free market', remember that they are not talking about competition, which is how it is usually sold, but for the freedom of the rich from any check on the power to get whatever they please.

p.s. Now see my follow up to this: Myth of the Free Market II, with more on Friedman, and how Stiglitz refuted him.

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