The Lie of the Free Market
A cornerstone of American ideology, the Free Market is not only misunderstood, it is held in a state of undeserved reverence. It is the golden idol of the United States. As such, Americans are expected to accept, almost without question, that its forces and actions will always work out for the better good, and when they do not, well, that is just the way it should be. But does it produce a greater good, ever? Is it okay when its forces work to the detriment of a few, or of the many, or of the whole? Is this desirable?
I will argue that it is not. No system is good that benefits a few at the expense of the whole, or of many, or even a few. I will put forth that free market capitalism, while it had its place in aiding the transition away from feudalism, is in itself detrimental to a society as a whole. It is not a system that, left on its own, and with no aim to transition to a superior system, benefits society at large. It in fact allows certain internal forces to be focused and wielded by a few who, while building themselves up, tear down their greater society.
Now why is my assertion at such odds with the mythology that has been spoon-fed to Americans since our birth for so many generations? The reasons are threefold: misconstrual, naïveté, and propaganda. I shall address each in turn.
It is no accident that with the acceptance of evolution and the theory of natural selection, Smithian economics, which proved so vital in the 18th Century transition from feudalism and allowing our nation to stand strong in its infancy, were not only justified using the idea that the laws of the natural world apply within the societies of man, but that it is desirable they do so. Applying the idea of survival of the fittest to our economic system not only justifies the greed of the exploitative class, but glorifies it. It sets forth the notion that they deserve their riches gained at the expense of the poor and working class because they are fitter, and therefor better. However, there are two misconstruals here.
First is the misunderstanding of the concept survival of the fittest and the theory of natural selection. When applied to economics, we are given the false notion that it applies to individuals, and therefor explains and rationalizes predatory behaviour. This is the furthest thing possible from the truth of it. Survival of the fittest, in terms of the actual theory of natural selection, never had, nor has, anything to do with individual creatures. When it comes to evolution, which generates over grand time scales, the individual is absolutely inconsequential. The fittest to survive over the long run is not the one creature, but the species. Those traits that strengthen an individual while weakening the species will ultimately lead to that species’ decline and extinction. And so it is with human societies – those policies and economies that build up individuals while tearing down the society by harming multitudes will, in the end, lead to that nation’s ruin.
The second misconstrual is that, in a Free Market, all men start with an even footing. This is absolutely false. Even in the most equal society, where opportunity has been made as perfectly abundant to all members as possible, there will never be the case that all people start with the same resources and connections. It is an absolute truism, and one coined in America to boot, that it takes money to make money. In other words, all other things being equal, all opportunities the same, the person who has the most wealth will best be able to exploit those opportunities – the rich will inevitably become richer. It is also a fact in human society that, no matter how talented one is, one will not get anywhere without knowing the right people. Humans are by nature inclined to give preference to the known over the unknown, the familiar face over the strange. So not only will wealth beget wealth, but nepotism will further it, and it does. Both of these factors actively work against the idealistic notions of how most Americans believe a Free Market will work. It will not even things out. It will not balance. It will simply allow the richest to become wealthier at the expense of everyone else.
Now grasping the miscontruals built into the American idolatry of the Free Market, it is easier to see where naïveté comes into play. It is the American Dream that every man can better himself, pull himself up by his bootstraps, and become as successful and wealthy as he wants to be, if only he works hard enough. Coupled with the illusion that the free market provides true equality, and that its forces benefit everyone rather than a rare few individuals, it is quite understandable just how attractive the lie of the Free Market is. But here’s the thing – humans are not, as a whole, by nature altruistic. We are greedy, deceptive, and manipulative. It has even been proven through scientific study that humans are born liars, and have to be taught honesty. This means that once in power, once controlling much of the wealth, most humans will not give that up willingly – they won’t share it. Even when they see their society and their world crumbling around them, they will continue to horde their wealth, consuming more and more – fiddling while Rome burns. We saw this during both stock market crashes, during the housing bubble, during the dotcom crash. And we see it no more clearly than in the vast amounts of resources some of the wealthiest in the world are currently throwing at the denial of the human contribution to our catastrophically changing climate.
And this leads us to our last point: propaganda. If the free market, an unrestrained ideology, is destructive to a nation’s interests, how is it that it is a cornerstone of our great nation’s ideologies? Quite simply put, it comes down to control of information. In school, from where does our tutelage ultimately come? Text books. Who prints these text books? Publishing companies. Who owns those publishing companies? The rich. Once out of school, from whence comes most of our news, our information? Print and broadcast media. Who owns those companies? Again, the wealthy. In fact, it is the same few wealthy who control the majority of our publishing, print, and broadcast media companies, and this has always been the case.
We can see the direct influence they wield, in the form of propaganda, by the successful 1930s smear campaign against hemp led by one William Randolph Hearst, newspaper mogul. A campaign to not only demonize and ban marijuana, but to make even the plant itself illegal to farm, despite the fact it has many non-pharmaceutical uses. Why did he do this? Why, Hearst also had vast interests in the logging and paper making industries. And what can you make with hemp, without any risk of deforestation through overlogging? Paper. And thus Hearst’s true agenda was revealed. But still his campaign won, and his propaganda successfully damned a largely beneficial plant, and the industry that could have arisen around it.
Who controls a vast portion of the world’s media right now, and in fact just made a rather disturbingly indiscrete purchase of the National Geographic? One Rupert Murdoch, a known purveyor of climate change denial propaganda, and one who happens to own over 800 media companies, including Twentieth Century Fox, the Wall Street Journal, and HarperCollins. Do you think that’s the only agenda he pushes? Hardly. He currently faces charges of bribery and corruption in both the UK and the United States – clearly he has no scruples in exerting the power he holds in attempts to sway public opinion and manipulate policies and economies.
The rich, as these two clearly demonstrate, have no qualms whatsoever in using their power and influence to persuade the public to act against their own best interests, all in the name of greed, in the effort to accumulate more wealth. And thus the beautiful lie of the benevolent Free Market is woven, spread amongst the American peoples, and reinforced daily. We bought it hook, line, and sinker.
It’s time we woke up.