An irony of free market apologetics

The author of the blog Opus Publicum notices

Let us not forget the irony embedded in free-market apologetics against third-way proposals like Distributism. Such folks often — perhaps invariably — decry the existence of “crony capitalism,” i.e. the marriage of state and commercial interests, and yet repeatedly point to the capitalist system as it exists today as a “proof” for their claims that “unfettered markets” work better than alternative schemas. However, if these free markets have never existed, how can the “unfree market” assist economic liberals in illustrating their points? What the liberals often want their audiences to believe is that if a semi-free market is able to deliver X results, then an even freeer market will deliver X + 1 (or better) results. That doesn’t follow, at least not until one is able to demonstrate that apparent lack of freedom in the market was retarding gains rather than serving as a necessary (though not sufficient) cause of those gains.

3 Responses

  1. The problem with distributism is who is going to do the distributing. As far as I can tell, it is going to have to be the modern bureaucratic state. And what could possibly go wrong with that?

    I’m with the distributists in spirit, and have no particular love for either corporate power or capitalism, but I’m afraid that modernity has put us in a bit of a bind.

  2. I don’t think the argument is as incoherent as all that; you needn’t make the argument that since semi-private markets work well, totally private ones would work better. Rather, you could say that, for example, since private fisheries and no farm subsidies work well in New Zealand, and a private air traffic control system and a liberalized banking system work well in Canada, all of the above would work well in the US, which I don’t think is as vulnerable to the objection you just outlined.

    I would favor a stronger role for free-markets than you probably would, but I do think that free markets are a pretty dull idea to make the centerpiece of someone’s social thought, so I think I’d agree with the general thrust of what much of Opus Publicum says.

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