Free Markets

In reading through an old copy of the Economist yesterday, I was struck by the magazine’s seeming schizophrenia. I could be reading an article reasonably discussing how governments could (and should) act to encourage businesses to shift to greener technologies in order to combat climate change, then turn the page to find phrases like “a strong Republican candidate for the 2008 presidency would be good for the country, and so good for the world,” or “so-and-so supports free markets, and so gets our support,” standing out without support or reasons given.

Where did the reason go? Can a magazine that pokes fun at people with knee-jerk reactions against evolution or capitalism get away with having its own verbal ticks? How can such an otherwise-reasonable-sounding magazine continue to have these serious intellectual hangups?

If we care to look at the record, truly free markets don’t seem to do so well for their societies. The much-lauded economic success of the “Asian Tiger” countries came not through pursuing free trade, but by imposing stiff trade tariffs and using government subsidies to grow native industries. Those economies–notably in South America–that swallowed the free market Kool-Aid have suffered wave after wave of bankruptcy and economic collapse.

And as the Economist itself admits, the “free market” has failed to deal with the challenge of global warming. It is up to governments–and the people voting for them–to force businesses to take up the responsibilities they would normally evade under an unfettered system.

Political candidates should be evaluated not on their party affiliation, nor even on their promises, but on their record of writing and voting on legislation. Economic ideas should be treated just as rigorously: if they fail to benefit society as a whole, they should be discarded. Clinging to the ideals of the past–whether communistic or capitalistic–is as contrary to reason as believing a ghost created the entire Earth in seven days.

Ron Toland @mindbat