By Nathan Barton
The free market is a thing of incredible complexity and benefit, and indeed a thing of beauty. Although not consciously designed by anyone (except, perhaps, for God Himself), yet operated and fine-tuned and managed by millions if not billions of people around the world, each acting on two impulses: their own self-interest, and their love for their fellow man (the second impulse, though not required for the free market, nevertheless makes it function much better).
The free market has been around since Cain first traded some of his veggies and grain for some of Abel’s meat and hides (or wool). It has grown steadily more complex and more essential to our survival as the world population has grown and spread to the four corners of the world. And as our technology has expanded it has grown not just more complex but more beneficial:
– transportation (the taming of pack animals and then the ability to travel on water being two of the earliest milestones),
– communications (writing has been around since the beginning in some form, but the ability to communicate over long distances in time and space has grown steadily),
– the availability of energy to do work: taming of wind and water and wood and then coal and petroleum and natural gas and radioactives, replacing human and animal labor,
– the development of money and credit and banking and accounting, and
– the invention of new business organizations and of uniform commercial codes voluntarily allowing people to work together in peace and to develop prosperity.
The power of the free market is hard to comprehend, even to those who study such things – and even to those who become powerful masters of the tools it provides.
(For those interested, may I suggest reading I, Pencil or watching it at the CEI [I, Pencil: The Movie – YouTube] or at TED-ED]. Leonard Reed wrote it back in the 1950s but it still is clearly understandable and applicable today.
Sadly, even as the free market bloomed and expanded along with humanity to cover the globe and even enter space, those opposed to it also found ways to hamper, damage, and weaken it – what I call throwing sand into the gears.
It could be said to start out with Cain and Abel: Cain’s envy and hatred for Abel’s animal sacrifice versus his own vegetation contributions led to killing off a major part of the economy! And ever since the rise of Nimrod after the Flood, and his creation (or recreation) of government and human religion, this institution (for government is merely one face of the human cabals rebelling against G-d; state-religion is the other whether it actually deifies the rulers as “gods” or co-opts worship of G-d by creating and controlling a clergy) has sought to control (and failing that, destroy) this great gift called the free market.
The sand can come in many ways, all fueled by human greed for someone else’s wealth (wealth without labor on the aggressor’s part) and power over other humans. It starts out with raids on neighboring tribes and towns and countries, followed by “altruistic” efforts to defend their own tribe or town by raising armies and disciplining people (for their own good, of course). Which leads to that most evil of thieving, called taxes. Quickly followed by laws and regulations resulting in this sad situation (in the words of one man) “If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”
It has been, for the last 5,000 or 6,000 years, in much of the world, been very much like pouring sand into the power train of a gasoline engine. Or any other complex device with moving parts. (Again, I point out, while technically the free market requires only self-interest, human love and kindness provide very valuable lubrication of the free market engine.) The very power and flexibility of the free market is seen in the fact that it can withstand very large amounts of sand in the gears and still, somehow, keep limping on. Whether it is one of the god-king Pharaohs of Egypt (together with his Hebrew vizir helping him control it), or the stupidity of a Roman emperor, the machinations of popes or guilds or nobles, or the totalitarian states of the 19th and 20th Centuries from Lincoln and Wilson to Mussolini, Stalin, Roosevelt and Hitler), the free market has been “eliminated” or “controlled” or “moderated” or made “compassionate” time and time again, and yet has survived or quickly revived when its enemies have failed.
But worse than that kind of sand is the more damaging kind: what today is sometimes called crony capitalism: where governments (and religions) have created situations in which their kind (greedy for money and power at the expense of others) have become the major players in the free market – making it a mixed one even if not recognized as such. I am here writing of such things as monopolies and oligopolies made possible by government laws – especially by those so-called “progressive” reformers, and the laws “protecting the public” by preventing people from entering certain professions without submitting to government and companies from competing because of the extremely high marginal cost of entering the market. And all the “free trade” treaties and central banking, and the rest. Even more damaging than those who would (if they could) ban and obliterate the free market, these actions – putting THIS kind of sand in the gears – creates a false-front “free market” which pretends to be free but is not.
Yet even in the face of that, the free market still continues to function after a fashion. Technology of energy, communications, transportation, and food production have all played a major role in allowing the free market to survive, if unable to thrive.
Which brings me to the question. Have the powers-that-be, around the world, finally decided that just putting sand in the lubricating oil and the transmission case isn’t enough, and decided to put that sand (or sugar or whatever) in the fuel tank? Is that what we are seeing in 2016 with the attacks on communications, transportation, and everything else, pushing to make it not just inefficient but impossible to operate without seizing up? I realize that I may be stretching the analogy too far but I will address the “sand in the fuel tank” in a future commentary.