Debate the free market.

Posted by Bignuncio at 1:25pm Jan 4 '12
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During my recent conversations there have been a couple of people who always demonstrate what I would call irrational fears of what would happen if we returned to a much more free form of economic activity. So I'll just briefly explain why it's irrational to have these fears. (yeah, this is brief, I could expand to arguments I foresee cropping up but I'll just wait for them)

First) The fear that people will get screwed if we had fewer regulations. To examine why this is a fallacy we need only look to what is currently free about our markets. Prices for example, the government doesn't regulate how much the things we buy cost. So if everything you buy increased in cost by 10% would you still buy them? Would you still buy your TV, your computer, your refrigerator, your car, a pencil, a box of Kleenex, a steak?
Obviously for most of the things you buy you would be willing to pay somewhat more, if not all of them. So why don't we all get screwed here and why don't they charge us 10% more?
Now think about your job, would you keep your job if they paid you 10% less? I suspect most of you would, especially if all jobs paid 10% less down to minimum wage.
With every example you can think of where you would accept a 10% worse deal why are you not forced always pay the maximum amount you are willing to pay?
The answer of course is the functioning of the free market. If one store or one brand went up in price by 10% we would just buy the other brand or shop at the other store. If one job offered us a lower wage than another we would obviously take the higher wage job. So the free market keeps our wages up and our prices down, it doesn't constantly screw us just because it could get away with it.

Second) The irrational fear of monopoly in the free market. People often say that the above benefits of the free market would vanish under a monopoly. Though there is no example in history where a monopoly has ever existed without government either supporting it or creating it outright. The very few examples where people could point to something even similar to a free market monopoly never demonstrated the price and wage gouging people fear and never lasted. Perhaps the favorite example is Standard Oil which gave very high wages and dropped the prices of it's products by very impressive margins. All this while innovating new uses for it's products that we couldn't currently imagine living without. Further their large market share did not last, even with the high wages and low prices other competitors began to adopt the business model of Standard Oil and rapidly eat away at their market share. So in a free market a monopoly can only come about because it is giving people what they want, if they ever falter in this the door is opened to break the monopoly.

Third) The free market will kill us all! With this irrational fear people are constantly pointing out how drug companies produce deadly drugs and many industries pollute our air, land, water, and food. This is perhaps the most true of the fears listed though of course having government regulations has not stopped any of it from happening. Most often the regulations come about after the industry has already found ways to become cleaner. Once the industry has figured it out then the politicians can make a regulation that ensures nobody will go backward, which obviously wouldn't happen anyway.
Drug companies, or any company, does not want to kill people and they do not want to poison the land we all live on. This happens accidentally and regulations only serve to levy fines instead of actually stopping it. Obviously it was against regulations to spill hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico but BP did it anyway. And obviously they would have rather sold those barrels of oil instead of lost them and avoided the massive fines and legal costs they now face and even more than that they would have loved to avoid the bad press that came with it. So to think they would do these things intentionally is obviously completely irrational.
Next we should talk about who knows best regarding business operation. Does the oil company know how to keep disasters from happening or does some politically appointed bureaucrat know best? This shouldn't be a difficult question. It is also interesting to note why BP was drilling there anyway instead of a U.S. oil company. That reason is of course that BP was a foreign company and so they didn't have to follow a regulation that U.S. companies had to. I bring that up just to help illustrate how the regulations don't help, they just find ways around them. The same can be said about the banking industry, if you regulate one type of financial instrument they just rename it. Also it was a pseudo government company that manufactured the faulty cap on the oil well which decided it was ok to do a shoddy job because obviously the regulator would only know if they told them... so again the regulation didn't help.

Fourth) The lame attempt to point out how free markets are not perfect. Obviously this is the case, nothing is ever perfect, the BP oil spill may have happened in a free market but the consequences would have been harsher. People get price gouged, people buy shoddy quality goods. Yes it all would happen in a free market. And it all happens now. You simply can not regulate away those few bad apples and the possibility of accidents. That's why we say things like look before you leap, buyer beware, too good to be true, and so forth. Those are the natural tendencies of any person in any transaction. Though something bad happens to those natural tendencies when they believe big brother is looking out for them. People become less concerned instead of relying on their own judgement they are more likely to just accept what is offered. Judgement is a huge part of a properly functioning free market. We each must judge value every time we purchase, we each must judge risk when we invest, we each must compare products. While none of us will ever have perfect knowledge all of us combined come fairly close and the wisdom of the crowd is what dictates how the market will react.

Fifth) People will have nothing to fall back on to protect us from evil empires. Again this is demonstrably false and the free market comes up with things like Consumer Reports, Amy's List, Better Business Bureau, and so on. These organizations exist in a world where taking care of the customer is dominated by a government monopoly. Were this monopoly not in place such organizations would thrive and would serve the customer far better than the government. People who doubt this would be the case only have to think it through with a modicum of logic. A) Monopoly is bad, therefore a government monopoly on customer protection is bad. Such a monopoly will raise the cost of such a service and eliminate competition for providing that service. B) A private customer protection agency would receive funding directly from the public so it would be accountable to the public. If they got a bad reputation they would loose funding in favor of a better organization so they MUST do a good job or be eliminated. In comparison a government organization receives funding from government, if they do a bad job nobody can replace them and the response is that they are not getting enough funding so the government gives them more to fix the problems. C) All other problems are equal with both a government system and a private system. Both can be bribed, both can serve vested interests, only one can't be eliminated through public opinion because a bad public opinion of a government organization only leads to them getting more funding to fix the problems which never works.

Sixth) This one is a little different and amounts more to an irrational ignorance rather than an irrational fear. The loss of economic good means the loss of well being and prosperity of citizens. Understanding this invisible loss is perhaps the most terrifying thing about the loss of the free market. Very few people seem to understand that when government takes something away from the free market that there is a cost to people. Not merely a cost in dollars but a cost in further development. The biggest fear today is the fear of a government health care system and what it will end up costing us in development of new life saving science and technology. Price controls produce scarcity in every example they have ever been used. Controlling the cost of health care, as we can see in many countries, means long waits for service and low levels of innovation. Even in the vaguely free market of the U.S. we produce as many new drugs each year as the rest of the world combined and I strongly suspect this is due to the faulty efforts to control prices in government run health care systems. Under a government system the prices are always rising rapidly and there is always an effort to cut the costs, one of the first things to go is research and development and the last thing to go is service to the population. Once service begins to falter public demands more money be dumped into the system, but by then much of the damage is done. For years now many other countries have been living off the innovation that happens in the U.S. and if our innovation is stopped by some foolish government health care system the entire world health care industry will stagnate. It won't stop but already it is a far cry from what it could be and it will certainly get worse.
The same can be said of any industry, taking money out of the economy for government use means the economy doesn't have as much ability to innovate and create the things the citizens most want. In exchange we get a lot of money spent on things that never pan out or things that cost far more than they needed to had the innovation happened privately. This goes as far back as the Right Brothers who built an airplane for $1000 after our government spent thirty two times that much in the attempt and failed. People can only point to what government created but nobody can point to what was lost, it's only theoretical but it is also obvious and monumental. You can not tax a system without reducing the ability of that system to function.
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