Why Free Markets Don’t Create Freedom


I hear constantly from my republican friends about how we need more “free markets and liberty”, as if it’s a magical path to prosperity.

The problem with this is that free markets and liberty are in conflict because the natural, unrestricted outcome of free markets is monopoly.

Just as with power and violence there is some competition early on, but once an intelligent contender gains an advantage they work as hard as they can to maintain it. This means eliminating competition and ultimately extracting as much as possible from the environment—whether that means citizens or customers.

If you’re the mob you kill your rivals, and if you’re a corporation you price new competitors out of the market and raise your premiums to the maximum. There is nothing more “free market” than getting as much as you can, as often as you can, and ensuring that nobody else can do the same.

But just because this type of market is “free” doesn’t make it desirable.

What would your phone bill (and service) look like if the telephone monopolies were not broken up? Would you have more or less freedom/choice?

And how about Comcast and similar ISPs? They are currently in all manner of regulatory handcuffs that keep them from doing to consumers what they wish they could. Imagine what American internet service would look like if there was only one ISP and they weren’t regulated.

The prices would be astronomical and the service abysmal. So if that’s freedom and liberty, then I don’t want it.

As unpleasant as it is, good ideas and innovation didn’t break up the old monopolies, and they don’t keep current companies from becoming monopolies. Government did.

Here’s the two-edged truth that progressives and conservatives need to understand:

  1. “Free Markets”, left unchecked, will destroy innovation and ultimately harm customers because they will create monopolies that have no incentive to improve

  2. Government regulation, left unchecked, will destroy innovation and ultimately harm customers by preventing private companies from innovating

At this stage of human evolution, greed and ambition are currently requirements for happiness, but so too is a moral framework that limits their deployment.

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