Why You Don’t Actually Believe in Free Markets

Nov 14, 2010   //   by Nicholas Hooton   //   Commentary  //  31 Comments   //   1653 words   //   Permalink   //     //  

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.

31 Comments

  • I <3 you! Thanks for this…

  • Nice piece. I believe you mean “jibe” not “jive” in the Sin Industries paragraph.

    • Good garbage, you’re right! Duly updated.

  • Hey why are you attacking me?

  • Do you go the extra step though? Privatized security? Or is that the only thing left standing for the limited centralized government?

    • If you are addressing this question to me, I am an anarcho-capitalist and everything that comes along with that.

      • I was, and I’m glad that you follow your reasoning all the way through. I’ve seen so many people who seem to stop there.

      • Anarcho-capitalism, just like anarcho-communism, is an oxymoron. There is just anarchism. Money cannot exist without faith in a government, and regimentation of society cannot exist without the existence of one. Get a grip.

        • Money can and does exist without government. Monopolized fiat currency won’t exist, but we will certainly still have a medium of exchange or several, all of which are by definition money.

          I do agree that that the additional labels after “anarchism” are misplaced or misleading (for instance “anarcho-socialists” advocate a massive totalitarian state in practice…

        • I have to disagree, the foundation for this belief is the Governments campaign for control. It’s a fact that they attempt to squander reports of self sustaining communities without government influence. Currency goes along side with this, If the people believe they cant live without government, the chances of revolution are drastically decreased. The print of the U.S dollar, is by any means in my book a hoax, as it costs $0.04 to print a $100 bill. its made by the treasury, sent to the feds and the banks make profit from charging intrest from the government. The u.s dollar has absolutely no raw value outside of what the Government declares it to be. (Also known as Flat Currency) Just a small friendly lecture from an Anarchist!

          -Thom H.

    • I disagree that privatized security and other things of that nature are the logical next step for everyone. There is a very large portion of “Libertarians” such as myself that do not consider themselves anarchists. I personally consider myself a Minarchist( From Wikipedia:”Minarchism (sometimes called minimal statism,[1] small government, or limited-government libertarianism[2]) is a libertarian political ideology which maintains that the state’s only legitimate function is the protection of individuals from aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud”) I don’t see why it has to be all or nothing. A giant state in control of every aspect of a society or no government at all. I feel that there is an appropriate role and size a government can take to be beneficial to society. I believe in a military. I also believe a legitimate role of a local government is to have police. If I disagree with how it is currently being implemented does not mean I think it should be abolished. I feel if a town/village/city wanted to opt out and have their own private security that is also acceptable and it would be a legitimate governmental role to ensure the private security force does not commit: Aggression, theft, fraud …etc against anybody.

      Or are you forgetting about local and state governments and only discussing the federal government? I do not see how it is a logically inconsistent stance to take.

  • Cool write up, but you can still have a public education system and cater for different individuals. Take a look at Australia.

  • Perhaps so, Sam, but you can’t have a “public”, ie, government, education system without the initiation of violence against non-violent people.

  • my spin by category….
    labor market:
    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1560065333286
    (for those not on facebook, it’s a bumper sticker I made that reads “Buy ‘only’ American and cast your vote in favor of destroying American exceptionalism”)
    “The only reasonable ‘minimum’ wage is the lowest amount ‘you’ are willing to make for a given amount of work. If no one is offering that much or more, you either need to find a new market for your skills or learn new skills for you to market!” – SWW
    As far as immigration, I am only offended when they are rewarded for doing so illegally and when the emphasis is on providing amnesty for those that have rather than fixing the broken system that allows them to continue.
    cultural market:
    “My flag is not a symbol of my ‘government’. My reverence for my flag is not a reverence for the men who govern my nation. My flag represents the cause of freedom for free men. And yes, destroy my flag and I see you as an enemy of freedom or, at least, a clueless dolt who is not worthy of my respect.” – SWW
    (feel free to replace flag with any concept I feel akin to ‘nationalism’.)
    I do not consider it unreasonable to have a law establishing ‘in what language’ official government business is conducted. Beyond that, I won’t solicit any business that thinks it is ‘cool’ to fly a foreign flag above the US flag, or expects me to know Spanish or Mandarin or Farsi to buy their goods. Government doesn’t need to (and shouldn’t) legislate my buying choices in that regard.
    education – one word – privatize!
    drugs market and ‘sin’ industries:
    “You can’t legislate away stupidity, and to try to do so is to legislate away freedom.”
    ideas in general:
    “My only allegiance is to ‘reason’. My only duty is to my own self-interest. My only obligation is to the pursuit of both with the least imposition upon my fellow man.” – SWW
    (source of my self quotes: http://thewildwebster.wordpress.com/facebook-stati/ )

  • By the way, don’t feel too bad that they ‘cherry pick’ the portions of libertarianism and conservatisim that they choose to identify with. From my experience with ‘God fearing’ conservatives, they do the same thing with their bible, and they consider that book and the doctrine it is alleged to represent as important above all else.

    • Christianity really has no doctrine in this day and age.

  • The battle for freedom has never really been one of conservatives versus radicals. It has always been between libertarians and authoritarians. George Orwell said something much like that.

    Simply put, many conservatives aren’t interested in conserving anything. They don’t want to conserve the constitution, they want to warp it to give them pretended authority to impose on the behaviours they are against. They don’t want to conserve freedom, they want to demolish those parts of it with which they disagree. To call them conservatives is mistaken when in fact they are authoritarians, and eager for as much power as they can gain for the purpose of imposing authority on others.

    Of course, there are also radical authoritarians, with radical views on activist government to help the needy or forcibly educate younger people or enslave health care workers to provide “free” health care. Again, they want as much power as they can gain for the purpose of imposing authority on others.

    Once you give up the mistaken ideas of voting to take choices, imposing authority for any purpose, and representatives who cannot and do not represent you, there is some chance you can “go all the way” and govern yourself. Externally imposed, coercive government is for fools.

    No doubt you’ve noticed that there is an abundance of fools, and of foolishness.

  • Thanks & greetZ vom Germany – your letter seems to be a good analysis. But… shouldn’t a conservative with a weak believe in free market – but a believe – be a better ally than a leftist (what you call Liberal in US) with strong believe in state-controlled economy?

  • [...] Why You Don’t Actually Believe in Free Markets [...]

  • I’m really stunned by this series of outright misrepresentations of what many conservative libertarians believe.

    Did you mean by conservative the far-right nut-jobs? If so, then I still think there are enough mistakes in there to warrant some further discussion with the parties in question. But if you just meant your run of the mill conservatives who profess to be Libertarian, well, yes, I’d be one, and I’d take issue with almost everything you have up there.

    I will say this, there are plenty of conservatives out there who have forgotten the core principles of conservatism, and who fail to see when their opinions on one specific moral issue actually fly in the face of their overall view of how the government should act and how citizens should be treated. I have no trouble calling them out on that specific issue when it comes up, but I would not throw this kind of laundry list at them.

  • I’ve yet to meet a single “conservative libertarian” that believes drug bans are good, private education shouldn’t be the goal, or most of the other crap you said. Maybe this sounds like a neocon, but the only one’s I’ve ever seen practiced by “conservative libertarians” is the one involving mexican workers/outsourcing, and the “sin industry”. The same way you can say that consenting adults make prostitution exchanges, I could say the same thing about hit man.

    Yeah sure, the guy getting killed doesn’t consent, but you know what? I don’t consent to whores being able to whore around. But you don’t seem to care about my consent, so fuck your’s.

  • “Yeah sure, the guy getting killed doesn’t consent, but you know what? I don’t consent to whores being able to whore around. But you don’t seem to care about my consent, so fuck your’s.”

    Are you seriously making the argument that murder and being offended by other people’s actions that do not involve you are equivalent? You can’t really be that stupid, can you?

  • Even if ‘conservative libertarians’ don’t believe in censoring video games and pornography, they still probably don’t believe in true free speech. As you point out, free speech is freedom in the marketplace of ideas. You can’t have that while you have intellectual property laws like patents and copyright.

  • I appreciate your clarity of mind and the persuasiveness of your argument.

  • This is one of your best articles Nic, keep it up.

  • Thanks, Ben. That means a lot!

  • [from Ramblings] You play yourself off as so intelligent and try to convince us that your “conservative” friend is so politically unsophisticated / stupid. You are not advocating libertarianism, you are (with a chip on your shoulder I might add) putting forth an argument for anarchy.

    Pure freedom = pure isolation. The minute you take upon yourself a relationship with another person you offer up a compromise to that individual or community. Relationships share a correlation to freedom and it is one of diminishing returns. The truth is that any ideas of freedom, as well as your’s and your “friends”, are compromised from the beginning. Each sharing a very similar spot on the grey scale of what your calling freedom. What’s embarrassing is that you don’t recognize this, and proceed to treat your (so called) friend as a pariah. As if YOU grasp what true freedom is and your friend is floating in some mirage that he and his Christian values have created for him.

    Prostitutes spread diseases (and pretty awful ones at that) through their “voluntary exchanges”. But what the Hell, all in the name of freedom right? If people would start paying closer attention to the value of their relationships rather than the value of their freedoms I am pretty sure the freedom stuff would work its self out.

    So in exercising your freedom to say what ever you want, you have probably lost a friend. (I know I wouldn’t be your friend after you wrote me this letter.) See how that diminishing returns principle works.

    So my dear friend, (who I have not met) my purpose in writing this response has been to show you just how empty your ideas of freedom really are. So empty, that if you had them you would most likely be alone and miserable.

    Love,
    Matt Daines

    • I really appreciate your feedback. I rarely respond to comments on articles I’ve written as evidenced above (I prefer rather to observe the melee!); however, yours gives me the opportunity to address some misconceptions and fallacies that I encounter frequently when debating political philosophy.

      First, this comment: “You are not advocating libertarianism, you are putting forth an argument for anarchy.” I encounter this lack of familiarity with history far too often and actually find it humorous at times. For 150 years, libertarianism was synonymous with anarchism. This was the case even in the United States up until 1974 when the few remaining anarchists were implicitly uninvited from the Libertarian Party by the Dallas Accord, and the prevailing minarchism of the Party is what the mainstream began associating with the term. This philosophy can more accurately be termed “paleoconservatism” and it is a far cry from what libertarianism is considered to be outside the U.S. and in political history. I use the terms interchangeably on this site. I do advocate anarchy if by anarchy you mean a society without a state, and if by state we mean an entity that funds itself through theft and maintains coercive monopolies on many services.

      “The minute you take upon yourself a relationship with another person you offer up a compromise to that individual or community.” Another frequently encountered notion, a dangerous one. This notion claims that individual rights are all well and good, but must be sacrificed upon the altar of society. This is absurd. Each individual has the right to do as he pleases with his person or property. It is universal, which means you would not be justified in violating this right of any other person. It also means that this right is present and valid no matter how many people you associate with, whether you are alone or whether you are in a crowded marketplace in Hong Kong. The notion that your individual rights are fewer or less valid the more people you associate with is absurd and necessarily arbitrary, and would ultimately result in those rights being null and void given a high enough population density.

      “Prostitutes spread diseases (and pretty awful ones at that) through their ‘voluntary exchanges’. But what the Hell, all in the name of freedom right?” Here your argument is that if a certain activity has the potential to result in crime, it is wrong. Giving a disease to someone without their consent is the crime here, not prostitution. People say drug use is wrong because it can result in birth defects if the mother uses while pregnant. Well, the crime is forcing a harmful substance upon another without their consent, not using drugs. If you follow this notion through to its logical conclusion, you must either outlaw all human action (because every human action has the potential to result in some harm to another) or outlaw activities that have some arbitrary likelihood of resulting in harm to another. Arbitrariness is never good philosophy or policy.

      “So in exercising your freedom to say what ever you want, you have probably lost a friend.” Interesting and fitting that you should say this, because the only people in my life who have been personally offended by my expression of my political views to the point that it affects our relationship have been conservatives. It turns out that this isn’t merely anecdotal. Psychological research has found that conservatives tend to be close-minded, intolerant and unreceptive to new or different ideas and experiences. They also tend to be driven much more by emotion (particularly fear) than by rationality or reason.

      “So my dear friend, my purpose in writing this response has been to show you just how empty your ideas of freedom really are.” Also funny, because these aren’t my ideas. These are truths that I discovered through study and reason. They also comprise the only normative ethical system I’ve encountered that is objective, consistent, logically valid and empirically accurate, and therefore true.

  • I want to stay out of this melee, but Nic, I’m curious – did your relationships with your “conservative” friends take a nose dive before or after you informed them that they tend to be close-minded, intolerant, unreceptive and driven much more by emotion than reason? That was pretty funny.

    I’m positive that you could find (and research that supports that there are) hosts of close-minded, intolerant, unreceptive and emotionally-driven individuals of *every* political persuasion. Conservatives don’t have the corner on that market. I consider myself to be conservative, but I certainly don’t espouse many of the ideas you ascribe to me in your above post. They are convenient characterizations – but inaccurate as they apply to me – that help you make your point. I am not personally offended, however, by your expressing your political views. I actually you respect the fact that you express them, despite the heat you likely take from your remaining conservative friends. We can be friends despite our different political views. I’d be a pretty shallow friend if it were any other way.

    • Haha! It’s not on the list of ways to win friends, that’s for sure. You’re definitely an outlier, Devin. I find our discussions to be very refreshing. You always seem to find the weakest links in the chain of my arguments and beat me over the head with them. I hope you’ll be spending more time on this blog doing just that.

  • Excellent article and very useful compilation of the problem. I hope it reaches at least some conservatives, and helps them reflect on what they really believe. Thanks!

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