Tuesday, August 02, 2011
The Un-restricted Hand of the Free Market
Several years ago, I was at a relative's house for a BBQ.
There was a guy there who was a real "know-it-all" and was going on & on about how the government should stay out of the affairs of business and "The Free Market".
He argued that there was never a place for government regulations, or any other kind of interference with private economic activity.
A person with any common sense realizes that this is simply a stupid idea.
Being someone who enjoys discussing politics & current events, as well as having already had a few beers, I couldn't help injecting myself into his little tirade.
My ultimate point that I kept coming back to was this- without any kind of oversight or regulation, the end result of free-market capitalism is, inevitably, slavery.
I mean this in both a virtual and real sense. Most people in developed countries can be considered virtual slaves, due to the predatory elements of capitalist economies that lead to personal debt. This is probably the most freedom-restricting element of modern society.
In a real sense, also, the insatiable quest for more valuable forms of capital will eventually lead immoral people or corporations to fully exploit the human being itself- seen as just another commodity to be owned.
The other guy's argument was that the public wouldn't let exploitation like that happen. He claimed that the customers would demand ethical behavior from banks & business. This is, of course, completely absurd.
Especially at this point in time, it is painfully apparent that left to their own devices, powerful corporations & organizations will endlessly exploit people for their own financial benefit.
That is why the world economy is in the chaos it's in now.
Although government is clearly an imperfect institution, Democracy is the last line of defense against the parasitic nature of "The Free Market".
Just because I'm cynical about the Capitalist system, I don't consider myself to be a Socialist or anything like that. I prefer to think beyond labels... & to just do things that work regardless of the system it supposedly belongs to.
Anyway, our semi-friendly debate ended up with neither of us persuading the other.
However, I feel like my argument was based on demonstrable fact. The other guy's argument was basically an Ayn Rand fantasy world- that would, in reality, be an escalation of the financial disaster we experienced from the years of Bush/Greenspan economic policy. These policies were an admitted failure, and we are still trying to deal with the consequences today.
In truth, such things as the economy, budgets, & even money itself are all abstractions, nothing more than tools we use in the real world. Humans are always capable of evil, so these abstract tools can be misused as systems of control to restrict real people.
Fortunately, they can also be improved & changed as surely as we can change our own minds.