I don’t think anyone wants this blog to turn into a wonkfest, but I would like to defend two Balloon Juice catchphrases, one of which some (* cough *) think is an indicator of epistemic closure.
The first is “Free Markets Solve Everything”. I think ED is spot-on with this analysis of the role of redistribution in free market economies, and I also think John is right about the callous nature of some advocates of the free market. But my main gripe about the term “free market” is that it has become an overused, shorthand term, devoid of any real meaning, used mainly to justify corporate rights over individual liberty.
So, for example, a discussion of net neutrality or Internet pricing, which is at its heart a discussion of the regulation of public utilities operating as (at best) part of an oligopoly, gets sidetracked by discussions of “the free market” of Internet services. This is a classic category error — if the ISP market is a “free market’, then I don’t know what “free market” means. ISPs string their wires on or under private and public property that is allocated to them by the government, there aren’t enough ISPs to provide actual competition, and the facts about the service provided are hidden from the purchaser. This is a hell of a lot different from the market for, say, shoes, where purchasers can choose a clearly defined product produced by a variety of companies who don’t owe their very existence to an act of government. Treating the purchase of a service provided by a public utility as if it were a trip to the shoe store is the kind of sloppy reasoning that gets a “Free Markets Solve Everything” tag.
Sloppiness about “free markets” is often accompanied by blinders about threats to those markets. The free market defenders who are often tagged “Glibertarians” here are those who think that the only threat to free markets is excessive (or any) government regulation. My view is that the opposite is often the case — the biggest threat to free markets is regulatory capture by corporations who seek to rig the market to serve the interests of big incumbent players. When I call someone a “glibertarian”, it’s mainly because they’ve used free market rhetoric where it doesn’t belong, or because they don’t understand the necessary role of independent regulators in the maintenance of a free market.
Ron Paul may have many failings, but he at least acknowledges that corporatism exists. McMegan and the Reasonoids seem to have forgotten that, if they ever knew it in the first place. For them, the perjorative “glibertarian” is richly deserved. While I agree that it’s probably tossed around a little too freely, it is firmly rooted in a legitimate critique of some widely-accepted stupidities about the role of government in markets.