Anarchism/Anti-State

U.S. Capitalism Isn’t a ‘Free Market’

By Sheldon Richman

Reason

In 1970 country singer Lynn Anderson had a hit recording of a Joe South song that opened with the line: “I beg your pardon. I never promised you a rose garden.” I often think of that song in connection with the libertarian philosophy.

You may be asking: for heaven’s sake, why? Because it’s what I want to say to people who seem annoyed that freedom would neither cure all existing social ills immediately nor prevent new ones from arising. It’s a strange demand to make on a political philosophy—that it instantly fix everything that the opposing philosophy has broken. Moreover, I’m concerned that some libertarians, in their justifiable enthusiasm for “the market,” inadvertently lead non-libertarians to think that this unrealistic expectation is part of their philosophy. Of course, that is not good because non-libertarians won’t believe that the market would make all things right overnight, and so they’ll write off all libertarians as dogmatists.

jonseidman1988/Flickr

Libertarians of all people should understand that decades—indeed, centuries—of government intervention have distorted society and the economy considerably. It’s safe to say that both would look different had that intervention not occurred. To pick one American example, the creation of an integrated continent-wide national market in the United States was in large part consciously planned by government officials (most prominently Abraham Lincoln, who embraced Henry Clay’s corporatist American System) and their corporate cronies, especially but hardly exclusively through transportation subsidies. [This is not to say they were able to dictate developments in detail; moreover, zones of entrepreneurial freedom existed, constrained though they were.] This system is American capitalism, which is to be distinguished from the spontaneous, decentralized free market.

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