Monday, March 30, 2009

Free Market Myth

I'm getting heartily tired of listening to Those People talk about the "free market". Tired of them talking about it as if it exists or ever did exist, and tired of them talking about it as if it were manifestly a Good Thing.

First, dearest Virginia, there's no such thing as Santa Claus and there's no such thing as a Free Market. Go ahead, have a look around. Tell me when you find one.

Do they mean free as in "unregulated"? A market with not a single regulation? Of course not! Very well, we are not talking about differences in quality but differences in quantity. Some regulations are good, more regulations are bad. The line being exactly wherever the Republicans decide to draw it this week.

Do they mean free as in "..." well, I can't come up with any other meaning. So there's no such thing as a free market; there are only markets regulated to one degree or another.

Second, let's look at degrees of regulation. The first great wave of regulation came during the Progressive Era, in direct response to the crash of 1894-95 and to the excesses of the robber barons. There was a comparatively unregulated business environment, and what happened? Well, for one thing, a helluva lot got done. Railroad boom, oil boom, massive real estate development, and industrialization pretty generally. But what also happened was many small businesses were driven out of business as corporate giants gobbled them up, then the giants conspired to keep power in their hands and cut off startups. Until they got so big and centralized that when an economic crisis hit, the consequences were exacerbated. And the working man took it in the chops.

After the Progressive Era, we had another round of Republicans (and let us be fair: the behavior was international, with free marketeers infected most advanced countries). We had the boom of the 1920s, and once again much got done, but with a terrible price: the Great Depression. Once again, the working man took it in the chops.

And again in the 1980s and again now. *Every* time regulations were rolled back, ordinary folks got hurt. There are no exceptions.

I'm less afraid of the government than I am of a corporation. I have a voice in my government, however tiny. I have no voice in corporate America. When was the last time you saw a wave of populist reform driven by moral considerations inside a multi-national? It literally cannot happen.

So screw the free market. It's a myth and it's a golden calf. Regulate the corporations. Hell, we keep our *dogs* on a leash with less good reason than for keeping the corporations leashed.

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