Free market fetishism

This is a pretty good description of it:

A market’s logic can serve us well when its evaluation of costs and benefits comes close to matching our own, but it can also fail us when the two diverge. In some cases, it can relieve us of thinking too hard about coordinating economic life. In others, it can produce results that are perverse, as in health care. But like computer software, when a given program fails to serve its users, there is nothing unnatural about revising its underlying code. The same could be said for the laws that underpin a market.

A market is a social tool; it is a means, not an end. Mistaking a mechanism as a virtue in itself is morally deranged. Consider, for example, Ron Paul. During the Republican primary debates, Paul refused to judge our market for health care by how well it served the sick but poor. Instead, he admonished us all to contort ourselves so we may fit the righteous device.

Why are free markets the best? Because they are the best. What part of that don’t you understand, libtards?

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78 replies
  1. 1
    Violet says:

    The market cannot fail, it can only be failed.

  2. 2
    The Moar You Know says:

    The God That Sucked

    Old but very, very recommended.

  3. 3
    Hunter Gathers says:

    I hear that the Invisible Hand gives one hell of a Tug Job.

  4. 4
    smintheus says:

    Basic Aristotle: Humans form societies and governments to provide a better life.

  5. 5
    Ding dong says:

    They are the best with some major exceptions. First is healthcare

  6. 6
    Paula says:

    It seemsthe Nebraska GOP is having an internal conflict with Ron Paul and Tea Party, go read the comments here

    http://leavenworthst.com/2012/...../#comments

    Hahahahahaha

  7. 7
    Linda Featheringill says:

    Free markets haven’s existed for 200 years or so. People have totally forgotten what capitalist anarchy looks like. Only crazy people would want to go back there.

  8. 8
    Martin says:

    That is a good description of it.

  9. 9
    Chris says:

    Yes, this is spot on. To liberals, markets are supposed to serve human beings. To libertarians, they’re an ends in themselves no matter how much damage they do.

    This also explains why liberals were big into laissez fairer capitalism in the nineteenth century – it was seen as advancing the cause of liberty and prosperity better than the feudal and mercantile economy – but didn’t mind moving away from it and towards something more communitarian by the twentieth century, because by then laissez faire capitalism had demonstrated its own weaknesses and its own sets of problems, and those needed to be solved as well.

  10. 10
    shortstop says:

    I’ve always thought the purpose of government was to correct the excesses and weaknesses of the market, which has no memory and cannot learn from the past.

  11. 11
    Roger Moore says:

    Why are free markets the best? Because they are the best I personally benefit from them. What part of that don’t you understand, libtards?

    FTFY.

  12. 12
    nitpicker says:

    To free marketeers, it’s not a free market, it’s a Procrustean market. If you can’t stand up to its arbitrary measure–for whatever reason–then you deserve the torture coming your way.

  13. 13
    Matthew Reid Krell says:

    Part of the problem is how we talk about markets. Economics professors say that “free and competitive markets are the most efficient way to allocate resources,” which is true as far as it goes.

    But the fetishists don’t understand the terms of art in that statement. So they plow on through without understanding, and reach a conclusion that is dead wrong. In so doing, they mistake efficiency for virtue (which to my mind, is the most basic problem of free-market fetishism).

    So the first task is to unpack what markets actually are in more detail than we currently do, I guess. Good luck with that.

  14. 14
    Ding dong says:

    @Ding dong: wtf . I did not get to finish my comment. Healthcare is one of the few products where when you have to have it you have to absolutely have it. And you do not have ba chance to shop it. The other problem is when there is a monopoly or even close to a monopoly.

  15. 15
    trollhattan says:

    Teh Majik Marketz (pbut) can act in profoundly illogical ways that confound freemarket simpletons like the Pauls. e.g., not only do people not automatically gravitate to lowest price, they often do the exact opposite. A “Veblen good” is a product for which demand increases as the price goes up. Gold bug rubes are prey to this. More to the point, the Willards buy a ten-million dollar La Jolla house precisely because it is expensive and they are guaranteed they won’t be surrounded by middle-class rabble.

    I’m hoping Willard can use his run as an opportunity to teach us all how being rich really is a wonderful thing and something to which we should all aspire. That will fix America, because we’ll all work harder to become Just Like Him.

  16. 16
    Citizen_X says:

    Why are free markets the best?

    Because they’re right there in the Constitution! Where? All over–usually right after all the talk about Jesus.

  17. 17
    Linda Featheringill says:

    @Paula: #6

    Nebraska GOP:

    The comments are funny and I did laugh out loud. I’ll admit, though, that they sounded a lot like BJ commenters when they’re . . uh . . discussing a point.

  18. 18
    Roger Moore says:

    @shortstop:

    I’ve always thought the purpose of government was to correct the excesses and weaknesses of the market, which has no memory and cannot learn from the past.

    That’s because you’re a DFH commie. Glibertarians know that the real purpose of the government is to back up the judgment of the market with fire and the sword.

  19. 19

    A “free” market is like free quarks, or free love: An interesting abstraction, sometimes useful for the sake of argument… but not anything you’re ever going to encounter in real life.

    Even if you could create one, it would self-distort into a non-free market quite quickly (as actors within the system all learn how to ‘game’ it to their personal advantage).

  20. 20
    EconWatcher says:

    When I was a college sophomore, I had a libertarian econ prof who got me all into Hayek and the Austrian world view.

    And I still think every educated person should read “The Use of Knowledge in Society;” it is really illuminating to think about market prices as reflecting aggregate information in society.

    For a while, I thought that answered just about every important social and economic question. But then, you know, I grew up…

  21. 21
    Davis X. Machina says:

    Baruch atah ha Shuk, ha dayan emet.

  22. 22
    zifnab25 says:

    @Roger Moore: Well, if it doesn’t benefit me, it doesn’t count as , dontchaknow. That’s why oil subsidies are freedom wands rainbows while health reform is endless tyranny, when you talk to a company-insured fossil fuel executive.

  23. 23
    HelpThe99ers says:

    Markets have their place, and they can be incredibly good at what they do, but… one size doesn’t fit all.

    Markets are problem-solving tools: specifically, they use information and other resources to optimize profits.

    Societal goals aren’t always reducible to the profit motive, though.

    The (small-d) democratic process is a problem-solving tool, too: one that uses the diversity of a populace to find solutions to societal problems.

    See: Cognitive Democracy, an essay published on Crooked Timber.

  24. 24
    Surreal American says:

    Is anyone familiar with the book “23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism” by Ha-Joon Chang? Just wondering if it is worth reading.

  25. 25
    slag says:

    The disdain Republertarians have for anyone who questions the free market reminds me of the disdain IT people have for anyone who questions their company’s choice of operating system. For the vast majority, it’s a tool with which to do a job–not a job in itself. Just because YOU know how to manipulate all the function keys for maximum efficiency doesn’t mean EVERYBODY does or even should. And if success with the system relies on everyone being just like you, then, well, the system sucks. Time for a redesign.

  26. 26
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Judas Escargot, Acerbic Prophet of the Mighty Potato God: If there is a market for something, someone will try to corner it. The only way one can have an approximation of a fair and free maker is if the government keeps a thumb on the scales at all times.

  27. 27
    300baud says:

    Spot on. Of course, fundamentalists can ruin pretty much any good idea. Fundamentalist Marxists are just as annoying. But now they’re harmless streetcorner loons, so nobody cares anymore.

    Fundamentalist capitalists and fundamentalist libertarians are only a problem because they’ve gotten their hands on the levers of power.

  28. 28
    Roger Moore says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    The only way one can have an approximation of a fair and free maker is if the government keeps a thumb on the scales at all times.

    Putting a thumb on the scales is an interesting analogy, because you can bet that in the absence of regulation there would be people literally putting their thumbs on scales so they could charge a bit more. If anything, the government’s role is to keep those thumbs off the scales, and to make sure the scales are measuring an honest pound, not to put a thumb on them.

  29. 29
    Jay S says:

    It seems to me that this particular fetish is a form of cargo cult. It’s a worship of a very crude facsimile of a free market.

  30. 30
    Nylund says:

    I think the “free market fetishism,” from a theoretical standpoint comes from the first fundemental theorem of welfare economics.

    To paraphrase, it basically states that if you can imagine a “central planner” (ie, a sort of benevolent central planner) who runs the economy perfectly, those same results can come purely from the free market, assuming that a dozen or so highly unrealistic conditions are met.

    This is often phrased by Libertarian types as something like, “An unregulated free-market results in the most (pareto*) efficient outcome.”

    But the funny thing is that it’s really just saying the market can do as good as a perfectly centrally planned economy, not better. Just as good as. Of course, a perfectly run centrally planned economy is highly implausable. Then again, so are the dozen or so assumptions needed for the free market to work.

    *Note that it says that markets can make things pareto efficient, which means that no one person can get anything more unless someone else loses out (ie, nothing is going to waste). But, that doesn’t mean the outcome is “good.” One person earning every single dollar that can possibly be earned and no one else getting even a penny is pareto efficient since you can’t give those penniless people anything without taking money away from the one sole rich overlord who owns everything. Yeah, it’s “efficient” but that doesn’t mean it’s a “good” outcome.

  31. 31
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Roger Moore: How about the government place a counterbalancing thumb on the scales? You can’t keep thumbs off; the best you can do is try to make sure things more or less even out.

  32. 32
    MonkeyBoy says:

    @Chris:

    This also explains why liberals were big into laissez fairer capitalism in the nineteenth century – it was seen as advancing the cause of liberty and prosperity better than the feudal and mercantile economy

    One of the first “triumphs” of free markets happened during the lead up and aftermath of the Opium Wars. Initially trade between China and the West was only conducted by government approved agents from both sides (mercantilism). Western free traders eventually got this market opened up so that more Western companies could trade with the limited Chinese trading houses. Meanwhile, the Chinese government banned the opium trade because of what it did to their citizens and by only allowing trade at Canton through the official trading houses was at times successful in enforcing the ban. The notion of “free trade” then mutated to regard the opium trade ban as an impediment to the holy principle of free trade resulting in a war whose outcome enforced the right of companies to addict people.

    Today most libertarians regard the free trade of drugs as an unassailable principle and if people are stupid enough to get addicted then it is their own damn fault and a wonderful business opportunity.

  33. 33
    Matthew Reid Krell says:

    @Nylund: Thank you for saying what I was trying to say better than I did. I always forget the limitation of pareto optimality.

  34. 34
    Steve in DC says:

    @slag:

    IT types hate those who question the choice of OS because most have no fucking clue what they are talking about or the time to run an environment. Supporting only one OS makes the most sense. OSX has networking issues so that’s right out, linux doesn’t support the most compatible office programs and virtually nobody knows how to use it so that’s right out. Leaves you with what? Solaris, see the problems with linux, BSD, linux all fucking over again. Like it or not Windows is the only viable choice unless you are an OSX only shop and don’t value data security or proper networking at all.

    There is a ton of crap that goes on behind the scenes in the server rooms and networking closets which influence a decision on operating systems, and none of the end users would understand that at all. Never mind managing end user clients becomes absolute hell with multiple OSes or multiple PC vendors at that.

    It’s not worth listening to end users… OS complaints usually turn into ‘I want to use what I have at home and I want work to pay for it” lobbed at IT people by nimrods who don’t even know what the OSI layer is. If you want to learn just how stupid most of the population is, work in IT, it’s amazing.

  35. 35
    MikeJ says:

    @Steve in DC: That’s the way bad IT departments are run. You should really see what good information infrastructure looks like sometime. I’ve worked at places that had zero trouble supporting the pc, mac, and hpux boxes on my desk along with a stratus terminal too.

    Bad IT departments that force bad choices on users. Good IT departments make things work.

  36. 36
    roc says:

    One would have to be wholly ignorant of history, or be a bad actor themselves, to cast regulation or limitation as undesirable in and of themselves, and petition that we replace our flawed system with a failed system, rather than simply address the flaws as they appear.

    Markets wholly unfettered by regulation or limitation have failed each and every time, in each and every place, they’ve been tried. They inevitably succumb to bad actors, and the would-be consumers withdraw from the market as much as is possible, sending the whole thing into a tailspin, until the citizens demand and secure the very regulations and limitations that make the whole damn thing work in an acceptable and productive manner.

    American history teaches us exactly why we have regulations and limitations on our markets. It shows us what the alternative to an FDA and EPA is. It shows us what a private infrastructure looks like. It shows us whether consumers will punish corporations economically for breaking the law, let alone for undesirable second-order effects like pollution. (Hint: they don’t.)

    Regulations and limitations didn’t spring from the minds of bureaucrats to puff up their own power. They were demanded, they were *fought for*, by the citizenry. Because the unfettered market was deemed a failure.

  37. 37
    Corner Stone says:

    @Steve in DC: Every time I read something you post I get the intense desire to ask if you have a brick pizza oven in your yard.

  38. 38
    Chris says:

    @300baud:

    Of course, fundamentalists can ruin pretty much any good idea.

    Very true, and a problem inherent in just about any political ideology.

    @Matthew Reid Krell:

    But the fetishists don’t understand the terms of art in that statement. So they plow on through without understanding, and reach a conclusion that is dead wrong. In so doing, they mistake efficiency for virtue (which to my mind, is the most basic problem of free-market fetishism).

    Well, the other problem is that “free markets are the most efficient system” is a statement of faith for them, not a deduction from their own observations. Free markets are the most efficient system ever, because to consider any other possibility (let alone try looking for something that might be even more efficient) would be to question (or worse, deny) the Truth we all acknowledge and worship. We don’t want it to be, therefore it cannot be. Etc.

    “Socialism Doesn’t Work” is another faith-based mantra of these people, and the people who use it are the same people who spend every capitalist recession and depression telling us either that everything’s fine, or that the only reason there’s a problem is because of saboteurs and RINOs corrupting our system. Free markets, as Violet said, cannot fail, they can only be failed.

  39. 39
    Corner Stone says:

    @MikeJ:

    Bad IT departments that force bad choices on users. Good IT departments make things work.

    This is way too philosophical to actually comport with reality. And incredibly simplistic.

  40. 40
    scav says:

    @Steve in DC: Choosing on OS uniquely from the viewpoint of those running the system instead of taking into the account the differing requirements of the users is also unrealistic. And the lords of the universe “End-users just mess everything up and if they could just be excluded from the system, the whole thing would run perfectly all the time!” attitude certain high-end geeks give off is, frankly, a joy. There’s fucking work I needed done that was best managed on UNIX boxes, Windows systems and Apples, I’m sorry it makes your life complicated, it’s not improving my life either, but unfortunately, it’s just how life is.

  41. 41
    Corner Stone says:

    @slag: Damn. Show us all on the doll where the Bad IT guy touched you.

  42. 42
    Corner Stone says:

    Good God. Let’s back the fuck up off the IT Dept, shall we?
    Has no one ever heard of the “Business Unit” ?
    Who the fuck do you think decides what the ultimate IT Roadmap is? Some frackin dweeb who’d prefer to never talk to an end user? Or the guys with the cash.
    Get real people. In a multi-thousand person user community, supporting your pet ideas about how to work efficiently isn’t decided by IT, it’s by the bean counters.

  43. 43
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Why are free markets the best? Because they are the best.

    The problem is the advocates of “free markets” don’t seem to understand that they need constant vigilance to be kept free. That requires a strong government to keep them free.

    They don’t really want free markets. They want to be able to ruthlessly exploit others.

    Not a one of them has read and UNDERSTOOD The Wealth of Nations.

  44. 44
    Slugger says:

    There is no such thing as a free market. There has to be law and order to establish the validity of the money/means of exchange, enforce the rule of contracts, protect against robbery and fraud, etc. Without the government doing that you have my guys fighting against your guys over every valued scrap. Every market has rules and rule makers. Sometimes the rules are stupid and the rule makers corrupt, but that is a different story.

  45. 45
    PIGL says:

    @Steve in DC: my god, it’s incredible…you are an insufferable, authoritarian jackass on Every Single Subject, and at Every Single Opportunity. What are you, 12 years old?

  46. 46
    Chris says:

    @roc:

    Regulations and limitations didn’t spring from the minds of bureaucrats to puff up their own power. They were demanded, they were fought for, by the citizenry. Because the unfettered market was deemed a failure.

    I still think it beggars the imagination that nobody other than a few lone voices in the wilderness like Krugman cares to notice that the Keynesian economy we set up in the 1930s and 1940s, and stuck to for thirty years after that, was by any measurable standard the most efficient and prosperous economy in the history of the United States. I can intellectually understand that it’s been quietly sort of scrubbed from the history books (as have things like the union and populist movements), but emotionally it still staggers me. For fuck’s sake, there are enough people alive today who lived through that era that they should know better: this isn’t Ancient Egyptian history.

  47. 47
    Haydnseek says:

    @Surreal American: Not only is it worth reading, but it should be carved into Mount Rushmore. Purchase it without delay. Perfect short descriptions of the shit we hear from wingnuts incessantly, then devastating, fact-based responses that completely annihilate their feeble arguments.

  48. 48
    scav says:

    @Corner Stone: That’s undoubtedly true. I’ve met some more than solid IT geeks but I’ve met a few of the SiDC types and yes, they hit a nerve. As does the One IT System Uber Alles vibe because that’s overly simplistic. My favorite IT geeks seemed to take great geeky joy in getting it all to work together.

  49. 49

    I thought a good way of showing what’s wrong with the “Free Markets Make Everything Wonderful” shit is this: Markets have no soul. That’s really the problem right there. They don’t care if some guy dies because he didn’t have enough money to get to a doctor. They don’t care if some poor kid growing up in a slum has no chance to get ahead in life–and that’s true even if she had the gift that was going to lead to a cre for cancer.

    And that leads me to another flaw with markets: They aren’t really as efficient as their worshippers would have us believe, because they don’t think ahead. If the market demands that we use up some resource, let’s say, all the oysters in the Chesapeake, well, then, guess what? There won’t be any more oysters from there, and a lot of people are going to be out of work. And nobody will get those Chesapeake oysters any longer. That doesn’t seem too “efficient” to me. And it could keep going: it could end up where there aren’t any oysters anywhere. The market doesn’t care, even though lots of oyster lovers are now screwed.

    Or take my first example: the cancer curing genius kid. Missing out on a chance to cure cancer seems awfully inefficient to me, since it costs a lot to fight it and it doesn’t always work. But the vaunted market keeps lots of otherwise qualified and deserving children from living up to their potential, by holding their families back. Who knows what kind of amazing things we’ve missed out on, just because the market worshippers have held off the political and social progress that would ahve let some of these gifted people do their things?

    I’m not an economist, so I don’t know how much sense this all amkes; but it seems to make sense to me, in a kind of intuitive way. Maybe somebody who knows more aboout this can put it more coherently. But it’s always seemed to me that one of the problems with markets is that they don’t seem to recognize qualities other than the quality of what somebodys willint to pay for something; and there are other ways of measuring value than that, and some of them, for some purposes work better.

  50. 50
    Bubblegum Tate says:

    The faith-based model is the only way to understand conservative politics: Belief despite the absence of evidence.

    “Free markets always work because that is what we believe.”
    “Tax cuts always increase revenue because that is what we believe.”
    “Scientific findings don’t count if we ignore them because that is what we believe.”

    And so on. It’s all articles of faith.

  51. 51
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @Horrendo Slapp (formerly Jimperson Zibb, Duncan Dönitz, Otto Graf von Pfmidtnöchtler-Pízsmőgy, Mumphrey, et al.): The guy who sells the last oysters makes a fuckin’ killing, though — rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

  52. 52
    Corner Stone says:

    @scav:

    My favorite IT geeks seemed to take great geeky joy in getting it all to work together.

    And you know what? Everyone on his team hates him for it. His coworkers hate that shit and his supervisor hates that shit.
    Yeah, they love a guy that can troubleshoot and get things to work. But that guy that freelances off the approved/supported systems causes heartburn for everyone else up and down the line.
    If it’s a fairly sizable business. If it’s a smaller one, than meh.

  53. 53
    Roger Moore says:

    @Nylund:

    One person earning every single dollar that can possibly be earned and no one else getting even a penny is pareto efficient since you can’t give those penniless people anything without taking money away from the one sole rich overlord who owns everything. Yeah, it’s “efficient” but that doesn’t mean it’s a “good” outcome.

    Yeah, but you’ll have a hard time convincing glibertarians of that, since they all believe in their heart of hearts that they’ll be the one big winner.

  54. 54
    Linnaeus says:

    I never cared much for the attitude of making people feel like shit because they’re not experts in a particular field.

  55. 55

    @Chris:

    “Socialism Doesn’t Work” is another faith-based mantra of these people, and the people who use it are the same people who spend every capitalist recession and depression telling us either that everything’s fine, or that the only reason there’s a problem is because of saboteurs and RINOs corrupting our system. Free markets, as Violet said, cannot fail, they can only be failed.

    This couldn’t be any truer. I’ve said it before, but, damn, these free market weirdos are just like Stalin and his soviet cronies. I mean, look at this:

    “Capitalism Doesn’t Work” is another faith-based mantra of these people, and the people who use it are the same people who spend every soviet-induced famine telling us either that everything’s fine, or that the only reason there’s a problem is because of saboteurs and wreckers corrupting our system. Bolshevism, as Violet said, cannot fail, it can only be failed.

    It works either way. It isn’t a coincidence that Grover Norquist admires Lenin’s methods.

  56. 56
    scav says:

    @Corner Stone: well, if you insist, except he was the head of the dept. so I guess environments differ. Some enjoy their work, some don’t.

    ETA: And why the assumption he was freelancing? He wasn’t.
    ETA: Actually, they weren’t, because there were a few who weren’t the heads of depts and still had to manage systems with all three plus OS.

  57. 57
    slag says:

    @Corner Stone: Yeah. That sounded harsh. And overly general.

    But it is kind of a running joke in my world–a world filled with many highly technical, yet socially aware and capable, people. Systems thinkers, if you will. And I think it’s the ability (or, at least, desire) to conceptualize all aspects and functions of a system–including the people–that differentiate the standard IT people from the good IT people. In the same way it differentiates Republitarians and liberals.

    That said, I often have my own frustrations with what, in the moment, I do sometimes sneeringly call “people”, so I have to curb my own attitudes in a lot of situations as well. A sporadic tendency toward Republitarianism is one of my own baser instincts, so I feel like I know it well.

  58. 58
    Corner Stone says:

    @scav: Not “freelancing” as in contracting but rather deviating from the approved roadmap kind of freelancing.
    Kickin’ it freestyle.

  59. 59
    roc says:

    @Chris:

    For fuck’s sake, there are enough people alive today who lived through that era that they should know better: this isn’t Ancient Egyptian history.

    It seems those people all bought the lie that that traded on their pride. They were told and believed that they were special. They *earned* what they got. Not because some bureaucrat in Washington kept the hounds at bay. No, because they were *exceptional*. Not like that dirty other who gets free medical care. And not because of the Union who just takes dues and what-have-they-done-for-us-lately-anyway? Kids these days, they just don’t want to work. They want it *handed* to them. That’s all they’re complaining about. Just make sure they don’t vote themselves a huge chunk of your retirement.

    They heard that for thirty-some years and they’ve come to believe it.

    All the while the GOP has worked to gut and obfuscate Government. To cut the safety net and dial it all back in. To funnel any useful service through a private contractor. Creating the situation where the government only visibly helps the most poor, the most easily scape-goated, and everyone else only sees the taxes going out and the nitwits at the DMV. Every other remaining government service is run through some private profit-taking intermediary that blames all its corner cutting on the evil government and wouldn’t things be better if they just weren’t in the way?

    And that flies, because the people who know better have chosen to remember it all differently. To sell their children and their country down the river for the sake of their self-imagined legacy.

  60. 60
    Kyle says:

    @Bubblegum Tate:

    The faith-based model is the only way to understand conservative politics

    It fits in with an authoritarian mindset. The mentality is
    “It’s true because I said it is, don’t you dare challenge my authority by expecting ‘evidence’ to back it up.”

  61. 61
    patrick II says:

    Instead, he admonished us all to contort ourselves so we may fit the righteous device.

    Remember Chaplin being pulled and contorted through the gears of the industrial mechanism in “Modern Times”.

  62. 62
    Lurker says:

    @Chris:

    I still think it beggars the imagination that nobody other than a few lone voices in the wilderness like Krugman cares to notice that the Keynesian economy we set up in the 1930s and 1940s, and stuck to for thirty years after that, was by any measurable standard the most efficient and prosperous economy in the history of the United States. I can intellectually understand that it’s been quietly sort of scrubbed from the history books (as have things like the union and populist movements), but emotionally it still staggers me. For fuck’s sake, there are enough people alive today who lived through that era that they should know better: this isn’t Ancient Egyptian history.

    I think most human beings only pay attention when things break. If the bridge doesn’t fall into the river, no one notices the presence of infrastructure maintenance. If grandpa and grandma don’t end up on the street in their dotage, no one notices the Social Security, Medicare and pension plan that made their comfortable retirement possible.

    I think most people who benefited financially from living through that era take their good fortune for granted. They don’t know or care about the Keynesian theory behind it.

  63. 63
    NCSteve says:

    @Hunter Gathers:

    I hear that the Invisible Hand gives one hell of a Tug Job.

    You heard wrong. Since about 2001, it doesn’t even do reach-arounds.

  64. 64
    Triassic Sands says:

    Why are free markets the best? Because they are the best everything else is Socialism.

  65. 65
    Chris says:

    @Triassic Sands:

    That too.

    A lot of my political “growing up” came from realizing that economics wasn’t a binary equation between Socialism and Capitalism, with Capitalism => whatever-the-American-conservative-movement-says-it-is. Once you realize that 1) there’s a vast spectrum of possibilities other than Ayn Rand and V. I. Lenin and 2) some of those possibilities are quite reasonable and work at least as well as “capitalism” as we define it here, the entire conservative worldview kind of crumbles.

  66. 66
    Triassic Sands says:

    @Chris:

    Amen.

  67. 67
    LosGatosCA says:

    Freedom of the market belongs to the man who owns one –

    Robert Diamond, Barclays
    Also, too, Ken Lay, Michael Millken, Jay Gould, John D. Rockefeller, etc.

  68. 68
    RSA says:

    @Horrendo Slapp (formerly Jimperson Zibb, Duncan Dönitz, Otto Graf von Pfmidtnöchtler-Pízsmőgy, Mumphrey, et al.):

    I’m not an economist, so I don’t know how much sense this all makes; but it seems to make sense to me, in a kind of intuitive way.

    I’m not an economist either, but it makes sense to me. When I bump into someone who worships the free market, I sometimes ask what happens to people who can’t afford to participate (e.g., in a market-based healthcare system). Two common answers seem to be private charity or “Screw ’em.” (Or both.) Markets don’t care about non-participants, but we should, because they’re people we’re talking about.

  69. 69
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    Not only are corporations people now but Verizon is acting on it by throttling their download speeds, claiming it’s a constitutionally protected right.

    Free speech markets bitchez!

  70. 70
    Maude says:

    @RSA:
    It shows a true lack of understanding of any type of reality or things outside their limited experience. They are used to not having to deal with the pesky side of nature, for example and are outraged if there is a storm and the power goes out.
    I have heard people say, I paid a lot of money for that house and the power should have stayed on. It is a basic disconnect.
    There is also the lack of having to learn how to think and do things because other people do those things for them. They think there is no effort in doing things like building a bridge. The bridge is there and so what?
    In other words, they are ignorant and the money protects them.

  71. 71
    El Cid says:

    What are you suggesting?

    Of course it just so happens that the politico-economic system dominant among the world’s greatest powers and which arose within the past 150 or so years is of course the best human civilization will ever ever ever ever invent.

    It’s just a bizarre coincidence that actual perfection in the model of how to interact with the material universe to satisfy human needs and initiatives of material goods was achieved exactly during our own time period.

    No matter how many thousands and thousands of years may pass from now, this is the best possible economic model humans could ever invent, because it’s here now and other things have been worse, and so it’s the greatest and always will be and anything else hates freedom.

  72. 72
    mclaren says:

    The problem here is that free markets actually do work better than other systems…in a certain specific narrow range of cases.

    Free markets work better for consumer non-durable goods than any alternatives. Free markets work better in the tech industry than any alternatives. Free markets work better for produce, food, that sort of thing, than other alternatives.

    The trouble comes when the fanatics try to extend free markets to everything. Free markets in education? Proven that they do not work better than the alternatives — in fact, a free market in K-12 education is a disaster, and the free market is clearly crashing and burning for higher education as well. In another generation, we won’t have the current free market for college degrees. What it’ll change to, no one knows, but it will have to change, ’cause the current market is not working. You can’t have costs rising infinitely combined with college graduates unable to find jobs combined with laws that make it impossible ever to discharge your college debt. That’s a crash-and-burn situation. It’s unsustainable.

    Free markets in any form are clearly unworkable for health care. Free markets in any form are clearly unworkable for national defense. (Corrupt weapons contractors, anyone? And as for turning over national defense to mercs…good luck with that one, buckaroo.) And so on.

  73. 73
    BruinKid says:

    There is no such thing as a true workable “free market”. You can use the Prisoner’s Dilemma to mathematically prove it, too.

  74. 74
    Chris says:

    @El Cid:

    Yeah, this a thousand times. History didn’t just stop when capitalism (or America) were invented, and there’s no such thing as a system that can’t use improvement (usually, quite a bit of improvement).

    But again we go back to faith-based reasoning. Capitalism (or America) as defined by our conservatives is the pinnacle of all human achievement ever, because it can’t not be the pinnacle of all human achievement ever, because if it wasn’t, then they wouldn’t be as special (“exceptional,” as they like to put it) as they say they are, and that thought’s just too horrible to contemplate.

    IMO, for our conservative intellectuals during the twentieth century, the truly chilling thing about communism and socialism wasn’t that it “didn’t work” – on the contrary, what terrified them was the thought that it might. And that if it did, their claims to exceptionalism and to the gold medal of political awesomeness were gone. That’s what drove their paranoia and their crusades, to a far greater extent than they would ever admit.

  75. 75
    brantl says:

    @Ding dong: The “free” market isn’t the best at shit. It encourages worthless and pointless redundancy, and little else.

  76. 76
    brantl says:

    Markets are problem-solving tools: specifically, they use information and other resources to optimize profits.

    That is all they are for. They don’t necessarily promote a good product, in fact they will seldom promote a product better than one that is just good enough to sell, unless by happy accident someone accidently discovers the optimum product, that is most cheaply made, first. (And if that should be the case, if you have patent limits, they will create other, inferior products, just so that they can reap the profits endemic to patented products.) The second-generation Cholesterol-lowering drugs are a great example of this. I know this from personal experience.

  77. 77
    brantl says:

    @mclaren: Show me where anyone has tried anything else, on a significant scale, without other overweighing factors. Russia is a case of piling a communist economic system on a totalitarian, beligerantly aggressive state. China, less aggressive, and more successful, although extremely overpopulated. Non-belligerant, socialistic states without significant handicaps have made out extremely well. Maybe non-belligerance is a significant key to their successes? DUH?

  78. 78
    KJD says:

    Matt Krell and Forthe99ers really aniled it in their initial comments.

    I teach my students that they should not think of “capitalism” per se but rather the free floating price mechanism. Sometimes, under very specific conditions, free floating prices result in very efficient and socially desirable outcomes. Many times not. We go over the cases where supply and demand on their own result inTeh Awesome and the cases where they completely faceplant in terms of social efficiecy.

    We also cover the issue of efficiency versuses equity. Even in a case where markets *do* produce a socially efficient outcome, we as a society may wish, for moral reasons, to give up efficiency in favor or some other goal, such as protection of the poor.

    The quick adjustment provided by free floating priices in a competive market *can* be a simple, useful and very powerful way of organizing resource allocation but it is very often not the opprpriate tool to reach social goals.

    Markets serve society, not the other way around. I know the economics profession sometimes receives it fair share of (too often well-deserved) criticism, but there is a certain intellectual satisfaction in teaching my students a more nuanced understanding of the power of markets as well as their failings.

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