The Truth About the “Free Market”

Capitalist politicians love to applaud the “free market” as a means to bring prosperity to the hardworking working class. The idea being that anybody with the desire for greatness can pick themselves “up by their bootstraps” and achieve riches abound. “Free markets” are so fantastic, they can almost regulate themselves. It’s easy enough: someone wants/needs something, someone else meets the demand for that want/need. Supply and demand is all you need to know to become one of the top 1% wealthiest in the world.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.

“free market

noun

  • an economic market or system in which prices are based on competition among private businesses and not controlled by a government”

– Merriam-Webster.com

“Free” as a Political Buzzword

 

Americans love their freedom. This is particularly evident at how often the word is tossed around. Free speech, free press, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, etc. From a young age, we’re taught that freedom is good. And it’s a difficult thing to argue against. It’s really cool when you can do things and it’s pretty inconvenient when you can’t. This is why politicians, left and right, love using the word “free”. (To be clear, although I’m left-wing, I don’t like progressives using the word for their policies.) It just triggers something in every Americans mind that says “this must be good.” This is just a way of labeling something in an attractive way.

 

economics-101-no-such-thing-as-a-free-lunch.jpg
This is an exception. Once used by migrant workers who became realists after being burned by businesses, this proverb is now mostly used by conservatives to justify slashing budgets and preventing beneficial public policy. Nevertheless, it is mostly correct.

 

With this much usage, “free” has lost much of its meaning and does very little to contribute to real discussions.

 

Government Intervention

Whitehouse-Silhouette.png

When people talk about free markets, they usually mean “free of government intervention”. They use it like this to basically say, “let’s stop regulative policy that helps employees and customers and let businesses do what they want.” They suggest that the market works best left alone. Some people in this upcoming election have even talked about abolishing the federal minimum wage. The idea behind this is that employees will be paid what they’re “worth” (many people are apparently worth way less than what it costs for them to survive), and businesses would be allowed to flourish and this will somehow help those same workers.

 

Monopolistic Intervention

monopoly-man

The other source of potential “unfree” markets are large companies looking to limit their own competition. Which, I would argue, is a large company’s biggest goal: being the only one selling a product/service and being able to sell that for far past their worth. One of the most prominent monopolies in recent history is De Beers’ monopoly on diamonds where they maintained control of most of the worlds diamond mines, created demand through marketing, and fixed prices for diamonds.

 

The Free Market Paradox

The unfortunate truth for arguments for a “free market” is that it simply cannot exist. Given free reign over a market without government regulation, companies grow and form monopolies to limit competition and individuals ability to enter into markets. Government regulation in a market however, invalidates any “free” moniker.

 

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