Free Market Thinking: Not Applicable

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In a world of left and right, libertarians should fit nicely somewhere in-between or ' even better ' in a neither-nor position. But still libertarians tend to identify much more with the right wing in politics rather than with the left wing. How is this so?

Perhaps it is the rightists' common talk of free market economics and the right to do as one pleases with one's income that is attractive, while the leftists' eagerness to regulate, tax, prohibit and redistribute hard-earned income is rather intimidating. But at the same time, the rightists often strive to regulate, tax, and prohibit certain moralities, lifestyles and social interactions ' while leftists have a rather laissez faire view of private life. Neither side seems to make sense politically or morally.

I tend to think libertarians 'feel' they belong to the right wing because of a decades-old alliance created to balance out very successful leftist propaganda and political influence during the 20th Century. Many libertarians, including myself, were therefore brought up politically with rightists, even in rightist clubs and parties, and that could generate a feeling of loyalty towards the right. I have a number of radical libertarian friends who used to belong to organizations of the 'right' and they still consider voting for the conservative party even though they really have nothing in common with their platform or philosophy.

Such common history of rightists and libertarians is interesting, but I don't think it sufficiently explains why libertarians believe they are 'rightists' rather than 'leftists' (when, in fact, they should perhaps be neither ' at least in terms of party politics). The reason for aligning with the right is also, I believe, a seemingly common ground in use of language, especially regarding economic understanding and the market.

But this common ground is nothing but an illusion. Yes, the 'right' speaks of the free market and the need for deregulation and providing favorable conditions for a strong and healthy business community. They speak of free market economics and use free market logic while arguing that low wages and poor working conditions are not problems ' people with such jobs chose these jobs voluntarily.

So far, the language and arguments are strikingly similar (if not the same) to the ones many libertarians use. I've heard many libertarians agree with conservatives and other right wing politicians on economic issues ' joining forces against the 'left.' I too argue low wages and poor working conditions are not necessarily problematic ' in the free market. The wording is the same, but the argument is quite different.

Those small words, in the free market, are most important because without them, the argument fails and is utterly false. Can it really be 'voluntary' to choose only from shitty jobs in a regulated economy where most work options have been made unavailable and a job is necessary to generate monetary income to pay taxes? I say it is not. Even if you make the choices yourself, it cannot be considered a voluntary choice to pick a least bad option from the options remaining within a suffocating framework of coercive measures.

Of course, the choice itself is voluntary and in that sense the rationalist logic seems applicable. But the choice is still made in an environment where most choices have been coercively done away with and where the chooser is restricted from making the choices he or she should have made were it a free market. It is like saying you have free speech ' only you cannot speak of X, Y, Z or A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J and K. That is not free speech ' it is regulated speech, and what you choose to speak of necessarily depends on what you aren't allowed to speak of.

Free market arguments are simply not applicable to the real world as it is. They are only applicable as arguments for the superior functions and mechanisms of the free market. And the free market itself is a great standard to which the real economy can and should be assessed ' to make clear its inefficiencies and injustices as well as providing an outstanding alternative. You cannot, however, make your own mix of the two; using free market logic to argue for low salaries and bad working conditions in contemporary state economy is simply a mistake.

Free market thinking is not applicable on the unfree market ' it is a powerful critique of the current state of affairs. Just as libertarianism does not go well with either the right or the left, but is a powerful critique of both.

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Per Bylund's picture
Columns on STR: 63

Has a passion for justice.