Uncommon Sense

August 13, 2022

The Free Market Lie

A prominent feature of modern conservative rhetoric is a plea to allow “free markets” to run freely in businesses. This is a lie. Some of the purveyors of this lie know it is a lie, others have been indoctrinated to believe it is true, but it is still a lie.

The argument for free markets was made most prominently by Adam Smith, but he addressed a market that was entirely local. All of the businesses and customers were locals and shenanigans had repercussions. If the only baker in town raised his prices dramatically, blithely asking “Where else will you get your bread?” People would start baking at home and one of those amateurs might turn professional and offer better bread at better prices and “Down goes the greedy baker!”

And when you extend such market concepts to even somewhat larger regions, things immediately fall apart. People were not neighbors of all of the producers of the goods they wanted to buy. And where did the marketeers look to fix the problems with their systems? They looked to government (first from the royals and later the pols).

An analogy could be made to allowing every small village to create their own justice system, with their own rules and processes and laws. Of course, you can see the chaos that would ensue. In one village you could call witnesses, in another you couldn’t, in one you had a right to a trial, in another you wouldn’t, and so on.

The current state of American business shows the lie of “free market ideology” for what it is. Currently, every large corporation is working to have laws instituted that advantage their businesses over businesses owned by others. (The bulk of the codes in our current tax code are of this kind.) The result in the end game is a de facto monopoly. Monopolies have no competition and the monopolists can manipulate the markets any which way they want to. (Consider the biggest source of today’s inflation—corporations raising prices because they can, not because they need to.) With no competition, the advantages claimed for “free markets” evaporate.

So, why is the drum still being beat for “free markets” when so many corporations dominate their “market segment” to the point there is no market at all? Is it not clear? The plutocrats running those corporations want no resistance to their earning money any which way they can. Environmental laws? Please. Labor laws? Oh, please, no. Fair practice laws? No, thank you. Market manipulation prevention laws? If course not! Taxes? We’d rather not, thank you!

Capitalism’s greatest flaw, as currently constructed, is there is no cap upon greed. And despite what you may have heard, greed is not good.

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