Monday, October 10, 2011

The Free Market does not equal Freedom

During the newly-hyped coverage of the Occupy Wall St. movement, a lot of the critics have been saying some very misleading and blatantly incorrect and personally damaging things about them. This has covered everything from having the group labeled "anarchist Marxists" to "anti-Semitic", "Nazi's", and "anti-American".

One of the labels that has been attributed to them, thanks to the Fox News anchors, has been that the group is anti-freedom. How did they come to this conclusion? Watch this video, and see if you can pick out their illogical line of thinking. Hint: read the title of this post.

That's right. Apparently according to Fox News, the Free Market is synonymous with Freedom, and those who are against Free Markets are, by extension, against Freedom.

In order to respectfully dismantle this delusion, I think it's appropriate to remind people just what the Free Market means, what Capitalism is, and how they relate to Freedom (if they do at all)

The Free Market is an economic structure in which businesses compete with little/no government intervention (i.e. no regulations). This is similar to what Ron Paul believes, when he says that the private sector can regulate itself. The idea is that a company must provide the best good/service at the best price to get business from consumers and be successful. This sparks competition which, in theory, would mean the best possible deal for the consumer. Of course, this relies on businesses actually competing instead of working together for the mutual benefits of keeping costs high and services low.

Capitalism is "an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for profit." In other words, CEO's and owners are in business to make money. Their interest in your well-being is secondary to their own interest in your money. We live in a Capitalist society, in which we buy the majority of our goods and services from private businesses. Keep in mind, our outcomes are not their primary concern, which is why Capitalist Medicine in particular has been brought under scrutiny. After all, how effective can our medical system be if the number one priority is to make money, and health outcomes don't factor into that?

Finally, there is Freedom. Freedom, or free-choice as it is used in this example, is the ability of individuals to make decisions for themselves. Those who support the Free Market and Capitalism often celebrate these institutions' abilities to deliver the maximum amount of choice to the individual. In fact, these ideas are so intertwined that, apparently, to disagree with one is to disagree with them all.

Considering these explanations of Free Market, Capitalism, and Freedom, there does seem to be a link between them. Unfortunately, it is also abundantly clear, especially considering the evidence of history, that freedom is not guaranteed or even protected in the free market or a capitalist system. Advocates for Free Market Capitalism (FMC) argue that only through competition and private enterprise can people enjoy true freedom. Well, not exactly. After all, we are limited by what those companies offer us. Also, those companies deny us certain goods or services in order to protect their bottom line. Remember our freedom is not their number one concern; their money is.

Take a look at "pre-existing condition" for health insurance. This is an instance where a person's "freedom" to choose medical coverage is denied because of their health history, an excuse used to protect the money made by the company. Or, look at the things that happen on Wall St. in the name of wealth. People lose their homes, lose their jobs, and go hungry, while the people at the top have everything. They earn bonuses and raises annually while the rest of us who are lucky enough to have jobs don't even see our incomes increase. Inflation and cost of living goes up, and yet the majority of workers see no change in their salaries, which is the equivalent of a pay cut. Does this sound like freedom?

The conclusion, of course, is the freedom is not tied, or even relevent to, the free market or capitalism. For one thing, FMC is an economic theory and policy, whereas freedom is a state of being. Freedom is the inherent right of every human, regardless of how their economy is run. To equate freedom to FMC is like equating faith to Christianity. Faith is something you have, regardless of your religion or lack of one. Christianity is a concrete model that, in many ways, tries to create monopoly on faith. There are many religions in the world, and faith is a part of all of them. Likewise, there are many different kinds of economic structures and designs in the world, but there is a measure of freedom in most of them. It's certainly true that FMC is not the only system that guarantees freedom, and is probably not the most freeing one out there.

OWS is not anti-freedom, as Fox has said. They are pro-freedom. They value people exercising their freedoms, standing up for them, and attempting to take them back. FMC is not about freedom. It is about rewarding greed and fraud. It is about disenfranchising and marginalizing all but the wealthy. The truth is, we don't operate in a FMC system. We haven't for a long time. It is time for us to either get back to the fundamentals of that system or, better yet, start fresh with something benefits everyone. Capitalism and the Free Market can work in theory, but in practice we have the wholesale destruction of million's of livelihoods in exchange for bonuses, bailouts, and increased wealth. Now, those same wealthy individuals want further deregulation, are pushing for more money from the public? It's the profit motive on steroids, and we have to hold an intervention.

In conclusion, Paul Krugman wrote another poignant piece in the Times that explains the reactions many of our media outlets have had to the OWS movement. It's worth a read to help explain some of the implied hysteria and anarchy that is supposedly the main drive of this group.

Remember that freedom should not be contingent on wealth, economics, power, privilege, or law. Freedom should only be contingent on being human. If you meet that criteria you deserve to be free.

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