07/17/2017

We Are The Economy They Want To Regulate

Sheldon Richman, Reason

Critics of the libertarian philosophy think they can score points by calling libertarians "market fundamentalists." It's supposed to conjure images of dogmatic religious fundamentalists, just like the term global warming denier is supposed to conjure images of Holocaust deniers. It's a smear, of course, and if you think the tactic discredits those who employ it, I agree. The fact is that libertarians cannot be market fundamentalists. Why not? Because in the libertarian worldview, the market is not fundamental. What's fundamental is every person's right to be free from aggressive force. So fine, I'm a freedom fundamentalist. Guilty.

Strictly speaking, it's not markets that can and should be free—it's people. The term free marketmerely describes one political-legal context in which people conduct themselves. It's shorthand for a subset of human action—the exchange of goods and services, usually for money. (The logic of human action, the study of which Ludwig von Mises called praxeology, applies to all purposeful conduct, not just market exchange.)

It follows, then, that when politicians and activists call on the government to regulate the economy, they mean to regulate us. There's no economy to regulate. It's not a machine or a vehicle. It's an unending series of purposeful activities the logic of which gives rise to a process characterized by regularities. Hence, for example, the law of supply and demand. We can talk about this orderly process—the market—as though it were a thing, but we have to keep its metaphorical nature in mind. It's still only people cooperating with each other.

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For [early immigrants] America was truly the land of opportunity. For the first time in their lives, many were truly free to pursue their own objectives. That freedom released the human energies which created the United States. There were few government programs to turn to and nobody expected them. But also there were few rules and regulations. There were no licenses, no permits, no red tape to restrict them. They found, in fact, a free market, and most of them thrived on it. 

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