Free Market Economists make the argument that if people were left to their own devices, they would naturally make the most efficient allocation of resources. And the reason for market inefficiencies (like crashes) is government intervention. If the government just stayed out of it, everything would work itself out.
I’m not saying that free market economists are wrong – in many ways, a little less government intervention might be good for progress and innovation. But at the same time, I can’t help but see a parallel between this development of economic thought and the Reformation.
I may be shot for saying this, but from what I can tell, Mr Luther’s big gripe was the magisterium of the Catholic Church. And that complaint turned into a pontiff-less procession of Protestants, Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and hate groups. All bound together by sola scriptura, being a faith based solely in the Holy Book and the individual’s interpretation thereof.
But is it really pontiff-less?
Not at all.
The Pope is the only Catholic to speak infallibly ex cathedra on matters faith-related. The Reformation just made Popes of everyone, which turned the Christian faith into a free-market economy with plenty of faith-based products creating confusion. Each pastor with a pulpit is now free to espouse an interpretation of Law, with the size of his following determining the strength of his message.
And the interesting question is what that did for the Christian message. Instead of an enlightened leadership guiding the faithful in a united proclamation of good news; “Christianity” is now an association of viewpoints on who’s going to Hell. I’m not sure if the Christ had this gospel of exclusion in mind – but that’s mostly where we find it.
And in much the same way, the liberalization of markets doesn’t destroy regulation. It just makes everyone his own self-regulator. Which, in my opinion, has an economic ending like the Lord of the Flies.
Because “free markets” is just a pleasant way of saying “survival of the fittest”. When you throw humans into survival mode, the altruists don’t win. We’ve seen the apocalyptic movies and the rabid shopping on Black Friday. Even if some of the party remains altruistic, they just become cannon-fodder for the opportunists.
An example: if you deregulate the labour market, then by definition, child labour is no longer an evil. And even if you, as a manufacturer, make the moral decision not to employ able-bodied children; your competition will not. And your competition can cut costs because of it: until you either change your labour policies, or martyr yourself on the altar of your principles.
Too much freedom is not good for mankind. It’s why we have laws and regulation and governance: to protect us from our own biases. And from the fittest – who if left to their own devices, tend to keep winning – all the way to some form of monarchy and serfdom-type scenario.
Do governments always do a good job? Well, much like the Popes, you get good ones and bad ones. But on the whole, I think that there’s a reason that we’ve historically longed to be governed.
It’s because if you ask us to govern ourselves, we make a complete hash of it. And if a government makes a complete hash of it – well at least then we have someone to blame.