After reading David Boaz’s The Libertarian’s Handbook, I was reminded how much of the Libertarian agenda revolves around free markets. In truth, Libertarians are not so much a political party as an economic party. With the dedication of religious zealots, they extol at every turn the advantages of the market, recommending that just about any human interaction you can think of should first go through a market.
The market, the market… It’s the Libertarian panacea. Don’t like Social Security? It’d be better if all retirement plans were handled by the market. Post Office lines too long for you? That’s because the Post Office doesn’t compete in a proper market. Don’t like the Welfare System? If there were no labor laws or minimum wages or workplace safety regulations, a true labor market could exist and everyone would have a job (nevermind the pay level for now), and we wouldn’t need a welfare system.
Now after all I’ve just said, this may come as a surprise, but I actually sympathize more with the Libertarian Party than either the Democratic or the Republican ones. Nevertheless, I don’t like to see complex situations oversimplified. And I never believe in a silver bullet solution, not even when it’s the Free Market they’ve got aimed at me.
Here’s what I think. I think the Free Market does a wonderful job. Smashing. Crackerjack… Sometimes. And sometimes, it doesn’t.
Ayn Rand was fond of saying that, because governments have always intruded heavily into the economy, the world has never tried Capitalism actually. Actually, yes we have. Or at least as much of it as we could stomach.
Up until the time of Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive revolution of the early 20th century, America had maintained a very hands-off policy when it came to business. And the results? To name a few: slavery, child labor, fourteen hour workdays with no overtime pay, common workplace accidents, adulterated so-called “medicines,” at-will hires with no unemployment insurance, the elderly forced to retire (pensions for the lucky few), widespread gender discrimination and harassment in the labor market, widespread racial discrimination in all markets, banana republics, corporation-led imperialism, collusion and price fixing, cornered security markets, gigantic monopolistic trusts, one great big whopper of a depression— and who knows what the hell they were putting in the meat!
Oh yes, someone could point out that even then, Capitalism wasn’t absolutely without fetter and so therefore one can’t really lay the blame on Capitalism. And oh yes, the list would be very long, indeed, of the problems that befuddle this present, “managed capitalism” system that we have going today. And oh-oh- yes, some of the same problems are still around, sometimes in different forms, but still fundamentally the same. And oh lordy yes, we got our own set of modern problems by the boatload. I grant all of this and more, but…
Isn’t that a bit like saying we should leap back into the burning boat because there are mosquitoes on the coast?