Dear Conservative Friend,
I’m writing to apologize for laughing the other day when you called yourself a “libertarian-leaning conservative”. It’s just that I know you well enough to know that your political views are decidedly conservative. That’s why I asked you what you meant. You answered, “I’m libertarian in that I believe in free markets, in freedom of exchange.” Again, I must apologize for replying, “Yeah, and I’m outdoorsy in that I like getting drunk on patios.”
I decided to write this letter to you to clarify my amusement with your comment. At the time, my thoughts weren’t organized as you caught me quite off guard. But now, I’m fully prepared to explain to you why you actually do not believe in free markets.
The Labor Market
A free market is not necessarily a market in which only goods are exchanged, but services as well. This is where the labor market comes in. You have labor to offer, and employers are in need of labor. A voluntary exchange occurs when you agree to trade your labor for a wage that the employer is willing to pay.
I remember you complaining, however, about how “American jobs” are being “shipped overseas”. You are offended by companies that would like to save money by paying an Indian a quarter of what you’re willing to accept as a wage for performing the same labor. You favor laws and tax regulations that either prohibit this behavior or offer tax incentives to those who keep jobs in the States. This is all well and good, but it is also contrary to the concept of free markets.
You are also very anti-immigration. If someone from outside the United States wants to enter our country and work for less than what you’re willing to accept for the same labor, this offends you. In the name of national security or “preserving American values”, you support measures that either prohibit such immigration or make it extremely difficult. Again, you are entitled to your opinion here, but can you see how this opinion is hostile to the concept of freedom of exchange?
Actually, the concept of preserving American values brings us to…
The Culture Market
You are a patriot. You love your country. In fact, you believe that God was instrumental in the founding of your country. This leads you to feel that your country is superior to others, and, as a result, that citizens of your country are superior to citizens of other countries. Oh, you may deny this, but your actions speak louder than your words.
This pride and self-identification based on citizenship is called nationalism. It’s what fuels your anti-immigration attitude. You are offended when people fly the Mexican flag instead of or above the American flag. You are peeved when you have to press 1 for English. You hate the guy who has his Hispanic last name spelled out calligraphically in his back window.
But none of this is contrary to free exchange. No, your belief that there should be laws preventing all of this is what tells me you don’t actually believe in free markets. There should be a law preventing another flag from flying above the American flag. There should be a law declaring English to be our official language. There ought to be laws protecting American customs and values wherever they may be challenged by competing customs and values. In other words, you don’t believe there ought to be free markets or freedom of exchange when it comes to cultural values, customs or languages.
Believe it or not, this actually leads us to…
The Education Market
You get angry when you hear about Hispanic children either not being able to learn English or refusing to do so in our public schools. The schools must then either provide courses in Spanish or neglect the other children while they expend extra effort on the Hispanic children. This is what motivates your desire to have English be the official language of the public school system, to force children to learn English or be expelled, preferably from the country.
But you would never dream of abolishing the public education system altogether and allowing a free market for education to abound. Education is just one of those things that must be provided by government, you argue. You feel it wise to cram every child from every culture and speaking every language and from every religion into the same state-mandated, cookie-cutter system with no room for customization. Even though the lack of competition makes public education sub-par at best and criminally expensive, you feel it’s a small price to pay to guarantee that everyone receives an education and contributes to society instead of being a burden on “the system”.
You aren’t willing to entertain the alternative, that education institutions ought to be privately owned and managed, that various schools could compete to drive costs down and encourage efficiency and innovation. You reject the notion that niche schools could tailor to children who speak specific languages or have certain religious values. You consider it heresy to suggest that formal education may not even be right for some children, that perhaps some ought to be home-schooled or get on-the-job training or even be allowed to choose not to get any education at all. In other words, you reject the notion of a free market when it comes to education.
But favoring the socialization of the education industry doesn’t stop you from vehemently opposing the socialization of the health care industry! Which brings us to…
The Drug Market
Keep the government’s hands off my health care! That’s right, you’re quite the Gadsden when it comes to government-run health care. You feel the feds have no business meddling in your health care decisions, that such things ought to be between you and your doctor, that Uncle Sam ought to keep his big fat nose out of it.
You believe all this, that is, until it comes to drugs. As soon as a consenting adult decides he’d like a bong hit, you suddenly become an interventionist! You feel we must protect these kinds of people from themselves, that if they aren’t smart enough to know that marijuana is bad for them, we must use government to force them to stop and punish them if they persist. In fact, you think that buying or selling marijuana should be illegal. You are adamantly opposed to the free market system when it comes to drugs.
It is this very idea of forcing your concept of morality on others that brings us to…
So-Called “Sin Industries”
In addition to the recreational drug industry, you also oppose the decriminalization of such things as prostitution and gambling. Even though a woman offering sexual services for a fee is a voluntary exchange, and even though a man betting money on the outcome of a horse race is a voluntary exchange, you favor the use of force to prevent these voluntary exchanges from occurring. I admire your piety, to be sure, but I do not admire your allowance of the use of force to prevent these things. Need I point out how your views here don’t jibe with the philosophy of free markets?
Your piety leads me to the last market I’ll mention in this letter, even though there are many more examples I could provide.
The Marketplace of Ideas
You are an outspoken champion for freedom of speech. Good for you! You don’t believe in the Fairness Doctrine that would require liberal ideas to have equal time on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. You don’t think the government should be able to prohibit prayer in school. You don’t think the state ought to be able to regulate what you say on your blog.
But you don’t really believe in free speech, I’m afraid. Free speech is just another term for freedom of exchange, only it is ideas, thoughts and communications that are being exchanged. You think that some ideas are more valuable than others, which is fine, because the idea market is subject to competition just like any other market. Bad ideas will have low demand and eventually be edged out of the market. But there are some ideas that you feel are so bad, they ought to be prohibited by law.
Take pornography, for example. You favor laws either prohibiting exchange in this medium altogether or strictly controlling it. Consider violence. You want to make it illegal for vendors to sell violent video games to children. You favor censoring some political advertisements because the money spent on them either exceeded some arbitrary spending limit you favor, or the money came from a foreign source. You want to stop Muslims from building a cultural center within a certain distance of Ground Zero. You want to make it illegal to burn the American flag or the Bible.
In short, when it comes to the marketplace of ideas, you do not favor freedom of exchange. You favor the use of force to prevent ideas you don’t like from being heard or considered at all.
In closing, my dear Conservative Friend, I don’t want you to think that I am attacking you, or that I don’t think you are entitled to your opinions. Nothing could be further from the truth. My purpose in writing this letter has been to show you just how empty your belief in free markets really is. I’m not trying to convince you that freedom of exchange is the way to go. I just want you to stop pretending you believe something you don’t. Associating your political views with the term “libertarian” just gives us actual libertarians a bad name.
Stop pretending. Embrace your conservatism. You believe in traditional values, you believe in a country based on Christian principles, you believe in America! But stop pretending you believe in freedom. It’s embarrassing.
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