The problem that I have with most so-called “free market” economists is that most of them aren’t. I suppose my ideal economy would be something like a giant flea market (or an infinite collection of micro-flea markets) which would certainly leave room for plenty of cooperatives, communes, and other “socialist” features. But I’ve encountered almost zero “free market” economists who were legitimate. Here are some of the tests I use to see how serious a “free market” economist actually is:
-Do they favor intellectual property, patent, or copyright laws that involve the imposition of monopoly privileges by the state?
-Do they favor the state’s monopoly on the issuing of units of exchange (money)?
-Do they favor a “large free trade” area imposed by a central government (like the EU, NAFTA, or even the US Constitution)?
-Do they favor a universalist (Lockean) model of “property rights” imported by a uniform law code as opposed to recognizing that “property rights” are a subjective social construct based on localized agreements by localized groups?
-Do they favor state funding/subsidies for “infrastructure” (or “internal improvements” in traditional American lingo) which almost always privileges larger enterprises over smaller ones?
-Do they favor “corporate personhood” laws that turn corporations into private states?
-Do they favor local zoning laws that create local fiefdoms and oligarchies?
-What are their positions on bankruptcy and debt collection, as the laws that govern these typically favor creditors over debtors (which is one reason the “Founding Fathers” were so gung-ho on including “uniform bankruptcy” laws in the US Constitution)?
-What are their views on squatting and land tenure?
-What are their positions on occupational licensing which mostly have the effect of preventing market entry?
-What kind of “consumer protection” laws do they favor (which privilege larger over smaller competitors but simultaneously shield corporations from liability)?
-Where do they stand on sumptuary legislation pertaining to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sexual vices, numbers running, street vending, etc. as these laws are used to attack the economic livelihoods of the poor?
These are just a few examples. Practically zero free-market economists come close to passing these litmus tests with the exception of a handful like Murray Rothbard on the right or Kevin Carson on the left, with even those guys veering off into Republicanism or social democracy, respectively.
“Sure, I think the important starting place is to recognize that what we casually call conservative in America today, is for the most part, not conservative at all, it’s libertarian. And what I mean by that is it places really almost absolute priority on free markets, on freedom, on free trade, on everything that has the word free in it, to the exclusion of a lot of other things that are just really important to human flourishing and a prosperous nation. And so certainly conservatives care a great deal about freedom as well. I love free markets, I think free markets are the correct way to organize a private sector and have a prosperous economy and deliver innovation in rising living standards and all those things.
But conservatives, I think, historically have had a much richer conception of both things besides free markets that matter. And then also all the things that go into an effective free market, that having markets that work well, having a successful system of market capitalism, isn’t simply a matter of getting everything else out of the way, it’s actually hugely dependent on healthy institutions. Obviously, dependent on strong families and communities, it’s dependent on the sets of rules that are set up within which the market operates and that are going to channel competition in productive directions. It’s dependent on the kinds of investments we make in education and infrastructure.
I would argue it’s heavily dependent on having a system of labor that ensures that workers are well represented and can look out for their interests. And so I think conservatives would say those things are all important to the free market. And then in turn, that it’s not just about the free market, that the free market is a wonderful thing, but we don’t serve it serves us and what we expect to do for us is to in turn support those families and communities and the prosperity of the nation. And if it’s not doing that, then the answer, which I tend to sense I get from libertarians of, “Well, that’s just it. That’s what the free market does.” Has to be, “No, we need to find ways to change that and channel it to be supporting the kind of ultimately sustainable society and nation that we value.” And so that’s what I think conservatives would say that they haven’t been saying for decades now, while really libertarians, within the right of center coalition have been allowed to dictate the direction of economic policy. “