The Fourth Person in God: The Free Market

April 10, 2006 | By | 4 Replies More

Based on several conversations I’ve recently had with some religious/social conservatives, God is no longer a Trinity.  Whether I raise pressing issues about oil, housing or education I hear the same answer:  “The free market will take care of it.”

They seem to repeat this free market mantra as their response to every conceivable question about human beings:

  • What do we do now that we are past peak oil, about the enormous challenges of converting to a non-oil economy over the coming decades? 
  • Shouldn’t the government provide a safety net for the poor?
  • What about the uncontestable fact that 90 percent of all large fish have been wiped out of the oceans since 1950?  
  • What about the worldwide water crisis affecting billions of people or soil run-off that is wiping out farms.
  • How shall we fix our ailing educational system?
  • How will we make sure that the food and pharmaceuticals we ingest are safe?

“The Free Market will take care of it,” they assure me.  They inevitably explain that the government always screws things up and should therefore keep out of it.  Conservatives assume that the Free Market works from the outside, meticulously steering worldly events in a top-down way. The Free Market is our Friend with Invisible Hands. He watches out for us.  He takes care of us.  He solves all problems in an utterly perfect way.  The Free Market is omniscient. The market is the Fourth God of the Holy Quartet.

But the Free Market didn’t build American highways.  It didn’t institute the G.I. Bill (which transformed America by allowing 8 million WWII American military veterans to attend college). It doesn’t build community parks and bike paths.  The Free Market didn’t create Social Security.  It didn’t take astronauts to the moon.  It didn’t create the Peace Corp. It doesn’t decide cases like Brown versus Board of Education.  The Free Market doesn’t maintain most zoos and libraries.  Though it probably brings on wars through the military-industrial complex, it’s doesn’t protest wars or express another other form of conscience.  The Free Market doesn’t cause parents to hug their children. Despite the affection that Free Marketers show for it, the Free Market is abjectly amoral.

I’m not advocating that the state take control over pricing.  There is room for many portions of the market to be unregulated.  On the other hand, the problem of the “commons” has become ubiquitous.  Conspicuous consumption and concern only for one’s self and one’s own herd have shoved the underclass of this generation and everyone from the next generation away from the table of opportunity.  Rather than serving as a cure-all, it appears that the Free Market (I would call it “the frenzy of short-sighted opportunism”) is putting us in a huge predicament.

Many conservatives reflexively assert that the Free Market will take care of almost everything society needs.  It disturbs me, though, that Free Marketers don’t feel the need to be active partners with their Big Invisible Friend.  When they utter the phrase Free Market, they feel entitled to stay ignorant and inactive about a wide array of increasingly dangerous problems regarding the health, education and welfare of real life people. 

The Free Marketers I happened to consult simply nod when I ask whether the people who don’t measure up should be allowed fail, some of them tragically.  They nod and respond that if you don’t pay your bills, you simply won’t eat or have access to electricity or flu shots.  This sort of response isn’t exactly proof that Free Marketers are trying to teach legitimate lessons in personal responsibility.  Instead, this response shows that Free Marketers don’t recognize or care that the Free Market is a euphemism for personal opportunism and social Darwinism.

Free marketers erroneously see the free market as a thing that is separate from the human activities that constitute it.  They ignore that individuals have a reciprocal causal relationship with the Market.  Even though we are affected by the aggregate decisions of those comprising the market, they refuse to see that the Free Market wouldn’t exist without us.  They simply won’t acknowledge that the Free Market is us. 

Therefore, the claim of Free Marketers that the “market” will take care of everything is a shorthand way of saying that people need not plan or worry about huge numbers of people in need. “Everything will work out for the best,” they say.
 
Since we are the economic market, we can choose to make different types of choices that could result in an improved sort of world.  Nonetheless, Free Marketers continue to advocate ignorance and inaction in the face of numerous ominous and imminent social and ecological disasters such as global warming or starving children.
 
There’s no need to be concerned, though, when you close your eyes and put your faith in the Fourth Person of the Holy Quartet.

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Category: Economy, Environment, Good and Evil, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. Sujay says:

    I have to agree…. This blind faith in the free market is about as irrational a thing, as I've ever heard…

    You've made many excellent points here!

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    According to Brian Eno: "The currency of conservatism for the last century has been that markets are smarter than governments." Amen to that. For his entire article, click here.

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