The miracle that is the free market

I spent the early part of this evening running some errands.

First I had to pick up my car from the shop. It needed a few minor (thankfully!) repairs. I got to the shop while the mechanics were still finishing up. While we were waiting, the owner was chatting me up about some musical questions. He’s working on buying a particular instrument for someone who needs it and wanted my help. I’m afraid to say that I was a bit out of my depth in this particular case, though I promised to follow up.

When we finished talking business, we kept batting the breeze nonetheless. My mechanic is an old school Philadelphian—hard working, honest, direct, and as good-hearted as they come. He’s the kind of guy that looks you in the eye the whole time he’s talking to you. I instinctively trust him. The mechanic finished up the car, we finished chatting, I paid a very reasonable charge for the work, and we all bid each other a Merry Christmas, and that was that.

Car fixed. Now what’s for dinner? After mulling over some options I decided to go right back to the hoagie shop where I had eaten lunch. While the workers—both of them immigrants—worked on my sandwich, we chatted about tonight’s biggest, brightest full moon of the year.

Now before I go any further I want to assure you that, while I’m an introvert, I’m no loner, and I have plenty of friends. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of them all. But nevertheless a thought struck me about my various vesperal visitations. What characterizes my relationship with these several proprietors? It is frankly, as if we are all buddies. This is the miracle of capitalism.

The free market gets a lot of bad press these days, but this is the result of a careless conflation of crime with free exchange. Corrupt business leaders getting in bed with government deserve to be called out (though one could certainly argue that this is not representative of a truly free market). Wal-Mart customers stampeding a janitor to death justly rouse disgust. But in its essence, the free market is a system of voluntary exchanges. The voluntary aspect of this makes each party responsible for himself and dependent upon the others. Each person is there because he wants to be, and this, coupled with the obvious desire to succeed, helps to build relationships.

This is not true in any other economic system. Surely it is not true in feudalism, nor is it true in socialism, which micromanages economies right down to who works in which job. Voluntary exchange would not even exist on an anarcho-communist paradise island, since everyone would be forced to pool resources.

The free market is the sole guarantor of voluntary exchange. It liberates us, so that we are no longer slaves, but free men—no longer slaves, but friends.

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2 Responses

  1. Is this what you’re thinking?

  2. Oh, crock about feudalism. It had “free” markets just as much as now. Go read Chaucer for tips. The same situation- honest merchants, honest buyers and the cheats.
    And does Sweden, a “socialist” country, really micromanages so much that it tells you what work you can do?

    You have relations with proprietors- fine. But do you have any with the corporations that make products you buy, ( such as computers)?

    Is Bill Gates or Steve Jobs a “friend”?

    You’ve pointed out something important- the need for exchanges to be more than just a monetary one but going from that to praising the “free market” is an intellectual and moral stretch.

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