Over the past several years I have had multiple debates with people about a foundational American myth: The Free Market. I use the word Myth to indicate a belief that’s taken for granted or presumed true, often without being examined. Myths are also things that, when looked at closely, frequently begin to crumble.
I’ll briefly summarize the position of my Free Market friends, who believe in an open, unregulated marketplace where authorities, such as governments, do not intervene to impact the laws of supply and demand. Freed from such impediments, markets perfect themselves toward a state of equilibrium that benefits both producers and consumers.
In this system your shoes — or tacos or jeans or new car or house — will be priced at a rate that the market has determined to be reasonable and fair, a price arrived at after much careful, deliberative consideration and back-and-forth. Sounds pretty great, right?
It sure does sound great! Thanks, Free Market!
But unicorns also sound great. (So sparkly!)
And very much like unicorns, Free Markets, while theoretically awesome, are practically difficult to demonstrate. Which has been the short version of my argument against my free market friends: Show me one.
Flip quickly through a brief time period, say, the past 20-years: housing, banking/finance, automobiles, airplanes, healthcare/pharmaceuticals, defense, and technology — each has received at minimum some, and in certain cases many, forms of government interventions, including direct funding/grants, debt guarantees, tax breaks/incentives, etc. (To say nothing about existing infrastructures, which is that thorny little detail most Free Market Myth believers always fail to include in their arguments.) Since each of those things is a form of intervention, and since intervention is the opposite of free…, well — you’re busted, Free Market Myth.
(This part of the argument is always accompanied by But’s… So many But’s… Which of course disproves nothing in the above analysis, although it’s useful to note that when Myth Busting you can expect to hear a lot of But’s…)
But now I’ll offer a But of my own, because — as the following chart of coronavirus statistics clearly demonstrates — while I initially thought that the $2-trillion stimulus package in response to the COVID-19 epidemic only further demonstrated exactly how un-free our marketplaces truly are, perhaps I was wrong all along.
Contrast the downturn of cases in May and June, when governments were actively intervening, with how great things are going now that we’ve removed needless regulations and oversight! Masks, social distancing, accessible testing, contact tracing, PPE… uff. So tedious! So un-free! (What is this, Communist Russia?!)
It really is beautiful to look upon a marketplace, freed from burdensome governmental oversights, and see how perfectly it functions! Just imagine how high those numbers can climb if we can keep government out of the COVID-19 marketplace!
As this site aims to be one that traffics in candor and self-awareness, for that reason now is the time for me to eat crow and apologize to all my Free Market friends. Unicorns really do exist!
As an added bonus to their point — the chart’s accompanying headline says it best:
Key phrase there is: LED BY THE U.S.
First: suck it world! We’re number one!
Second, and once again: Free Market friends, you were right, this Myth really can sustain us.
Lastly, an editorial aside: we at And Why Not? are almost tired of all this winning.
But not yet…