It always makes me laugh when someone, usually a Tory, appeal to the so-called ‘free-market.’ There is no challenge or problem faced by society for which someone won’t offer the market as a solution. From health-care to endangered animals, some people think the market will solve all the problems; or at least that is what they say. The problem is that for all the talk, virtually no one really believes in a free market. Modern society is more heavily regulated than any in history and in the case of most of these regulations even the most ardent Tory or free-marketer are not willing to dispense with them. For example, when people talk about the market as a way of solving health-care issues, what they really mean is that we should create a situation in which large multi-national corporations can make more money out of the people’s illnesses and suffering. When was the last time you heard some free-marketer suggest that anyone should be able to offer their services as a doctor or sell home-made drugs to treat illness? Never, I am willing to wager. This is because no one really believes in a free-market; period. Every part of capitalist exchange in our society is heavily regulated and very few people would have it otherwise. Anyone who has tried to start a small business knows first-hand just how regulated things really are. Regulations determine what you can sell, where you can sell, how you can advertise what you can sell, etc. In fact, our so-called markets are so thoroughly regulated and controlled that I wager that Adam Smith would not even recognize our mode of production and distribution as free-market at all. It has been a while since I read the Wealth of Nations but I do recall that Smith was careful to distinguish between the ‘market’ and ‘capitalism.’ The market is a place where we exchange goods and services, but capitalism is a mode of production that is nationally based and one that the state helps to maintain in the national interest. (I think most people, including free-marketers would be surprised to realize the degree to which Smith embraced 19th century nationalism)
Now, I am not saying this to suggest that I object to regulations of markets, far from it. I mention it because once you start paying attention and realize that these free-marketers don’t really believe in free-markets at all, you are suddenly struck by the question; “what are these people really going on about then?” Well, if you take a close look at the economy in which we live, it doesn’t take much analysis to understand what is going on. Tories and ‘free-marketers’ drag out their inane, tired arguments about the market whenever they see an opportunity for big capital to make more money, or see a threat against big capital continuing to ensure their profits. And when you see the sorts of people who are involved in many Western governments, and you see the ties they have to oil companies, mineral companies, pharmaceuticals, developers, etc., the issue becomes frighteningly clear. In recent years these relations have, in many cases become embarrassingly obvious. Bush’s ties to big oil and the Saudi Royal family, and Dick Cheney’s connection to Haliburton are only the most public examples. And it is this connection between so-called free-market governments and big business that makes the whole thing seem to be a tragic-comedy. Because parties like the Conservatives in Canada, the Tories in Britain, and the Republicans in the US, almost never make significant changes in the market that benefit small business people, yet these are consistently the core of their support. There is a mass-hallucination in Western society that causes people to suffer from the delusion that Right-wing governments are ‘fiscally responsible’ and in favour of free-markets. And our hallucinations are constantly fed by media sources that help to perpetrate them. These illusions are closely tied to another prevailing unquestionably accepted notion in modern Capitalism, to wit: that private corporations can do anything that governments do, only more efficiently. The prevailing acceptance of this idea is confirmation of the adage; ‘tell a lie often enough and people will believe it.
I remember seeing Noam Chomsky asked in an interview if he thought there were any real alternatives to a ‘free-market’ system, and he replied , “Yes, the system we have now.” The fact is that we already live in a system that has little to do with the ‘free-market.’ Thus socialist alternatives are not really radical ideas to pursue within the confines of our current mode of production and distribution.
So next time some Tory of free-marketer appeal to some principle of the free-market, just laugh in their face because they are only interested in market driven solutions when the price of access to that market is substantial enough that average people have no chance of actually benefiting from it.