2011-04-14 04:30:59This is "General Chat". . . thoughts on the "free market"
Peter Miesler

At first I was going to put a link and comment about this over at "Communicating science" but the more I thought about it the more I didn't think it belonged there.  Plus, what can I say, considering how politicized and just plain weird the Republicans are getting, I want to share the whole thing... food for thought and all (it's only 309 words) 

So here is a letter to the Durango Herald editor I wrote today, regarding a really dumb letter from a few days ago. 

~ ~ ~

“Let The Free Market Address Conservation” the headline screamed. Say what? Leave the “free market” alone to address our environmental crisis as it sees fit? You mean the “free market” that sent USA manufacturing jobs overseas, effectively gutting the future of America’s middle class? The “free market” that is bulldozing mountain after mountain in the Appalachians only to fill in valley after productive valley with rubble and poisonous tailings?

The same “free market” dedicated to maximizing profits while minimizing liabilities by making them someone else’s problem or ignoring them? The “free market” that doesn’t plan for long term maintenance as reflected in the sorry state of America’s infrastructure of bridges, water treatment facilities, etc.? The “free market” that is cutting social programs to the bone, while continuing its faith-based diplomacy by bombs and an ever increasing military/industrial/political complex?

The “free market” that establishes “think tanks” such as Marshall Institute, Heartland Institute, SPPI, and more? Who have developed the art of deception and mass media propaganda to the level that with smoke and mirrors they can make a tiny clique of politically motivated contrarians seem like “half the scientific community” to gullible folks - while broadcasting dishonest spins on the science that a serious high school science class could drive through.

“Free market” is an Orwellian triumph of words over substance. Where’s the freedom when 2% of the richest adults in the world own more than half of all wealth and when half the world’s population owns barely 1% of all wealth?

To imagine that our “free market” leaders, or forces, care one fig about the welfare of future generations is to ignore a couple hundred years worth of human history. The “free market” may be excellent at extracting and consuming - but sustaining something for future generations is simply not within it’s bubble of awareness, let alone concern.

2011-04-14 05:56:52


“Free market” is an Orwellian triumph of words over substance. Where’s the freedom when 2% of the richest adults in the world own more than half of all wealth and when half the world’s population owns barely 1% of all wealth?

Indeed, the term ‘free market’ is a much overused and misused term by the Western democracies. The irony is that Western democracies only use the free market when and in a way it suits them. For example there are plenty of agricultural subsidies in the US and EU which undermine small developing country farmers. Even when the market allows the 'free' movement of produce, it restricts the flow of people, and an affordable level of education necessary to gain influence and power.

This ensures the majority of people remain in poor countries.  Here, corrupt rulers are paid to maintain trade agreements which benefit the West and disadvantage the developing world.  Money is diverted from public expenditure particularily education, so there is always an excess of manual labour.  This together with barriers to quality trade, mantains low wages and ensures a plentiful cheap supply of goods and commodities for the developed world. 

2011-04-14 07:28:49indeed
Dana Nuccitelli

Good points CC and perseus.  One of the problems with relying on the "free market" is that we don't have one.  Oil and coal receive massive subsidies, for example.  But more to CC's point, corporations don't give a good goddamn about public health and welfare, or really anything besides their profit margins.  That's why we have government oversight agencies like the EPA.

The argument goes that without the EPA, people would eventually demand that contaminators clean up their mess through their "free market" influences.  I'm sorry but that's just downright naive if you ask me.

I work in the environmental consulting industry, and one of my co-workers (a data management and security guy) is a libertarian and very government minimalist, who would do away with agencies like the EPA if it were up to him.  He was hoping we would have a government shutdown this week "to show people how little we really need the government."

Anyway, I've debated this issue with him.  I told him that without government regulations and the EPA, we wouldn't have a job.  He said we would, because people would demand that property owners provide them with clean soil/water/air.  I responded that people would have no way to know their soil/water/air was contaminated in many cases until they started getting cancer and other adverse health effects, and the purpose of regulations is to prevent these adverse effects and protect public health.

We never came to an agreement, but it's this same "free market" mindset that I find very naive.  I think you feel that way until you're the one who gets cancer from contaminated drinking water.

2011-04-14 12:10:18
James Wight


"The irony is that Western democracies only use the free market when and in a way it suits them."

We don’t have a free market for heroin.

2011-04-14 18:41:44
Mark Richardson

I think the main serious failure in the free market is that externalities aren't counted.

Someone pours poison into your air that you have to breathe, and then you get stuck with an illness meaning you can't work for a year and suffer horrendously (and in America, have to pay a lot)? Your problem. If it saves them $500 to do $25,000 of damage to you (and the US economy), then that's what they will do.

This is one of the strongest reasons why we need government action on climate, and economists tend to pretty strongly agree. Even some libtertarian types. Seems to me that this should be the 'bridge' between the left and the right for improving society.

2011-04-16 12:54:56comment
Robert Way


We are having an election right now between a "free marketer" and a havard human rights professor in Canada... guess which one the population is leaning towards :(

2011-04-16 13:16:19externalities
Dana Nuccitelli

Yeah Mark, economists agree on accounting for externalities of burning fossil fuels (see the economics post I just published), but when you suggest doing so, Republicans call you a socialist!  Well, they pretty much call anyone who proposes any increase in market prices a socialist.  We like our artificially cheap fossil fuels.  Gas at half the price it is in Europe, and we complain how expensive it is.