On Free Markets

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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91 Responses

  1. Pat Cahalan says:

    > So I think it’s most helpful to discuss free markets in
    > terms of how free they are, not whether they are
    > free or not.


    > Otherwise we get pissing contests.


    > But I do think absolutism is pointless.

    Three points and the ball.Report

  2. DensityDuck says:

    “[W]hat I’m trying to get at is that I think one can support free market policies without having to support every page in the libertarian playbook.”

    It would be so nice if everyone on the progressive side thought that way.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to DensityDuck says:


    • well okay in reply to DensityDuck says:

      Well just about everyone does. But of course one can differs about what it means to support free market policies.

      And one irony is that the outsized influence of corporate America and other monied interests often works against the goal of free market policies. Something that most libertarians understand, and all SHOULD understand.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to well okay says:

        They do.

        The problem is that the Progressives completely forget about regulatory capture and they see something like Congress’s Affordable Care Act and they cheer about finally being on the road to Single Payer when, no, they’ve just colluded with corporations to transfer money from the Citizenry to the Private Sector while screaming that the people who don’t want this to happen want The Children to die.Report

        • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

          Umm No. L’s accept regulatory capture as an issue. I just don’t see it as a universal trump card that automatically invalidates anything any L’s want to do.

          You really think L’s don’t have problems with the ACA…face palm…really??? You aren’t paying attention. But i do see you have deployed another generic catch phrase “What about the children.” Its such a good one, it has a grain of truth so its not like being a birther. But of course whats really important about discussing HCR is that people who don’t want to do anything or prefer the status quo feel all warm and fuzzy about their lack of contribution. Its not like health care matters after all.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

            Greg, I’ve said, again and again, that if you want more health care that there are ways to do that. I’ve written essays. I can repost them for you to ignore again, if you’d like.

            On the other hand, I have seen essays accusing those who oppose Congress colluding with lobbyists of allowing children to die. Do you want links? I have them. (One’s even to this very site!) When I cry “what about the children?”, it’s not mocking arguments that haven’t been tossed about but arguments that have been given in support of Congress colluding with lobbyists.

            But, hey. At least the Progressives get to feel warm and fuzzy when they accuse the “enemy” of not caring about The Children, right?

            Because it doesn’t matter what you do. It only matters that you *CARE*. Screw that. I’d rather callous and indifferent resulting in better health than caring resulting in regression to the mean.

            At the end of the day, feelings don’t mean crap.Report

            • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

              right Jay, you always know its really about. Its about “*CARE*”. well if you say so, i think its about getting better health care, because feelings don’t matter, results do. I can point to actually functioning health care systems that work, i believe we’ve discussed them. As i remember the health care systems of canada and western europe shouldn’t actually work. oh well .Report

              • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                And did Congress pass a law making us more like Canada and Western Europe?

                Did congress make us more like one of those actually functioning health care systems that work?

                Or did Congress collude with lobbyists to give one hell of a giveaway to corporations from citizens?

                Remember, Greg: We’re not going to get health care from the system that your intentions envisioned. We’re going to get health care coverage from insurance companies that wrote the law that Congress passed.

                And pointing at Western Europe will not change that we are going to get health care coverage from insurance companies that wrote the law that Congress passed.Report

              • E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                As much as the healthcare law blows, something IS better than nothing, for me.

                As a post college grad with a fulltime benefit-less job, who needed surgery recently because of a torn piece of cartilage, I am grateful that even this sham of a bill got passed.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                So this bill helped you, then?

                Or are you counting on it helping you in the future if something like this happens again?Report

              • E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                It kept me from adding another 15k to my debt load.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                This law did?

                Knock me over with a feather.

                I thought that stuff didn’t really start happening until 2014.


                That website doesn’t say a lot of what’s, apparently, going on.Report

              • E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                Again, not to say another bill would not have been better, but it also might not have been passed before another couple of years of debate.

                At least now there is something more tangible to change, reverse, or improve upon.

                Because I was able to stay on my parent’s insurance, and they have a good plan, I was saved (the injury occurred after school but before I had acquired a job.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

                “At least now there is something more tangible to change, reverse, or improve upon.”

                Ah-heh. Laws are not code. You don’t release the beta version of a law and patch in the rest of the features later.Report

              • E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                As far as your point Duck, I grant that not making the perfect the enemy of the good is NOT a valid excuse against criticism of what then gets passed.

                My point was more from a collective action/public opinion point of view. This imperfect step to address the issue of health care costs/coverage at least forced something beyond the status quo. Many of these provisions don’t go into effect till 2014, and now with the proposal to let states opt out, I think we’ll find that this piece of legislation has really just pushed the conversation forward.

                Now, rather than arguing over whether or not certain things will turn us into a communist state or fascist dictatorship, we can address specifics.

                The rules of debate usually put the obligation of proof on the proposition (in this case some plan for changing how we do health care). Now that the status quo is the new bill, the terms of the debate are shifted.

                Now looking back, that is still not ideal, but it is also better than no bill at all, in my opinion, only because I have no faith in Congress’ ability to compromise on anything reasonable (personal savings accounts, public option, etc.) without the process itself pushing them along.Report

              • stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Or did Congress collude with lobbyists to give one hell of a giveaway to corporations from citizens?

                This doesn’t make any sense. What’s your complaint here? That government compromises to further specific goals, or that in the absence of congress we’d all have access to universal healthcare funded by the Gates Foundation? The current reality is that a handful of very small but powerful sectors of the economy have inordinate amounts of power. Do you deny that? If not, how is it the fault of congress that having to accommodate them is necessary to advance the ball?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to stillwater says:

                What’s your complaint here?

                That we were sold health care coverage in the guise of being promised health care.

                The current reality is that a handful of very small but powerful sectors of the economy have inordinate amounts of power. Do you deny that?

                Not at all. I’m in support of decentralizing that power, actually. Lowering barriers to entry, that sort of thing.

                If not, how is it the fault of congress that having to accommodate them is necessary to advance the ball?

                Because was was being sold was not accomodation to insurance companies but health care for people who cannot afford it… stuff like “Look at Canada!” and “Look at Denmark!” was used as an argument in response to why we needed this bill when, at the end of the day, this bill makes us nothing like Canada or Denmark.Report

              • stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                The WH and Democrats were very clear that the bill would preserve the private insurance market while addressing a few key issues – guarantee issue, recision, no lifetime caps, etc. And if you recall, the medical loss ratio stipulated by the bill is 85%, while the CBO determined that 90% would effectively nationalize the health insurance market. It also expands medicaid to 30 million people, all the while being deficit neutral over a four year horizon, and reducing the deficit after that, (those are the CBO determinations) as well as preserving Medicare as an institution for some time.

                Look, the real problem here isn’t government, or insurance companies (though both are certainly culpable to a certain degree). The real problem is front end provider costs. Breaking up the insurance cartel and ‘decentralizing that power’ would certainly lower insurance price, but not significantly, and it wouldn’t reverse the exponential rise in health care costs, which is driven by the front end.Report

              • stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                And regarding the bills provision of health care vs health care coverage, there’s this:

                The amount of the premium assistance credit falls as taxpayer income rises. For eligible individuals with incomes “up to” 133 percent of the federal poverty level, the subsidy is high enough to reduce an individual’s premium payment to 2 percent of “household income.”[12] As income rises to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, the subsidy declines, increasing the monthly cost to 9.5 percent of monthly household income.

                I don’t really know what to say here. You’re pissed off about the bill, but it was intended to address several real problems, one of which was the closing the gap on the uninsured, another was mandating guarantee issue, but yet another was an attempt to save medicare, which is gonna make us go broke if costs aren’t gotten under control.

                Also, there’s this: what viable alternative could possibly have been enacted?Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                Mr. Stillwater, the current health care bill was the Senate “draft” to be reconciled with a more sensible House bill.

                When Ted Kennedy died and Scott Brown was elected in his place, a proper “reconciled” House bill was no longer passable in the Senate. So the Democrat House passed the Senate bill instead. [With much arm-twisting.]

                This bill is shit and was never intended to become law, even by the Democrats.

                Now that the GOP controls the House, it is even shittier and less democratic than it ever was, and that doesn’t even include the constitutional question.

                Sorry to drag you into this, Mr. Stillwater. You have been conscientious and principled correspondent.

                But this bill is shit, and can make no claim to “the consent of the governed.”Report

  3. Jason Kuznicki says:

    What I find remarkable here is that as sort of a general, free-floating assertion, the left says it’s fine with markets.

    Policy by policy, increment by increment, that assertion very rarely has much in the way of consequences.Report

    • greginak in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      I guess there is no way to respond to that. Liberals feel like there needs to be some regulation and the market doesn’t do everything, so does that somehow lead to L’s not believing in markets. Is then a black and white situation, i certainly don’t think so. If anything when Liberals point to examples we like its the social democracies of western europe that have markets and freedom and pencils and uni HC.Report

    • well okay in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Well talk about general free floating assertions …

      When it comes to regulations, the last 34 years has, on the whole, seen more deregulation than regulation, and those regulations that have do exist now are, for the most part, more market friendly. Much of this happened under Democratic presidents with plenty of progressive support (though not unmixed).

      Trade is freer than it was 34 years ago. Yes, this is one area with a significant progressive dissent (joined by a signficant paleo conservative dissent). But the free traders have mostly been winning – among the progressives as well.

      When it comes to government spending, the only new big ticket programs since the Nixon administration have been the prescription drug program & now Obamacare. Bracket those for a moment. Spending on the whole has gone up a lot in that time, but mostly because of the natural growth of social security, medicare, and medicaid. Oh and let’s not forget defense.Yes, education spending is up a lot too, and certainly that’s an issue for conservatives & libertarians, and is a federalism issue, but it’s not precisely a free market issue, as public schools are the status quo.

      So the prescription drug program and Obamacare. The prescription drug program was on the Republican watch, and isn’t really anti market, except in the strictest sense that any government spending program could be considered anti market.

      As for Obama care, it wasn’t very market friendly. But nor was the status quo. And recall that single payor – even less market friendly (though ironically as you concede elsewhere still probably preferable). But some context here – the status quo wasn’t much of a market, either. And while there were plenty of proposals for change that would have moved us in the direction of a freer health care market, none of thos proposas went anywhere EVEN AMONG CONSERVRATIVE REPUBLICANS, because of political realities. I mean, can you imagine the shitstorm if a politicain proposed eliminating the deductibility of employer provided insurance? Obamacare’s halting moves in that direction were HAMMERED by Republicans.

      Bottom line, I don’t know the answer on health care – the best alternatives are probably politically not feasible – my own preference would be much more market friendly – but I’m not sure the progresives can be hammered much on this issue, given the lack of market ffriendly, politicaly viable alternatives.

      There’s some one time government initiatives that could be considered anti-market – such as the financial services bailout. With one notable exception, these enjoyed bi-partisan support & were considered emergency measures. Say what you will – and I am a sceptic of much of it myself – but I don’t think this can be fairly said to reflect any kind of progressive hostility to markets.Report

      • Dan in reply to well okay says:

        [i]When it comes to regulations, the last 34 years has, on the whole, seen more deregulation than regulation, and those regulations that have do exist now are, for the most part, more market friendly. Much of this happened under Democratic presidents with plenty of progressive support (though not unmixed).[/i]

        That’s is objectively false there are considerably more pages in the federal register now than there were then(the number of pages fell under Reagan and has risen since he left office under presidents of both parties) if there were truly reductions in regulation the number of pages would have decreased.Report

        • greginak in reply to Dan says:

          We had price controls on some things in the 70’s: the airline industry was very definitely deregulated: the financial industry was, tragically, deregulated in the last 10-15 years. There are plenty of examples of less regulation. Number of pages of reg’s is a pretty silly measure. How much of that is due to wordy writing or increasing details instead of regs. Maybe some areas need very specific details/regs so there are more pages just to cover the topic. The Fed Register also covers notices, maybe there are more of those. There are also some things we didn’t know about or have, like chemicals, med devices, tech devices that need to be covered.Report

          • Dan in reply to greginak says:

            If you don’t think the federal register is good measure of the level of regulations, do you have an alternate objective measure? Point to cretin regulation that have been repealed doesn’t prove anything, in the past 34 years we’ve had the American’s with disabilities act, the civil right act of 1991, the Water Quality Act of 1987, the family a medical leave act, Superfund, CPSIA, healthcare reform, and that’s just off the top of my head. If you have some objective measure by which regulation have decreased please share it.Report

        • well okay in reply to Dan says:

          You REALLY want to use the number of pages in the federal register as a measure of the overall weight of regulation on the economy. REALLY? Please, that is an incredibly unserious argument. Whole sectors of the economy that were regulated are no longer regulated. No new sectors of the economy have been regulatted. Even in still heavily regulated industries – e.g., the financial services industry – there has been plenty of deregulation.

          And that isn’t even addressing the fact – not opinion, fact, with PLENTY of support among knowledgable libertarians – that regulations are more carefully designed these days to reflect market realities.

          Now, you want to argue that there is still too much regulation, or much of it is still poorly designed. Fine, argue it. But no economist of any ideological stripe is going to deny that – on net – the economy is less heavily regulated in 2011 than it was in 1975.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Sure, the Left is fine with markets. Let’s not forget, it was actually Clinton who deregulated the CFTC, which would lead inevitably to the Enron scandal. Well, it was proposed by Phil Gramm, hardly a Leftie, he.

      And it was Clinton who signed the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

      And didn’t Carter deregulate the S&L markets?

      So yes, you’re righter than you suppose. It’s those goddamn Lefties, just deregulatin’ this nation into oblivion.Report

    • But here is where we start here is where we start getting into pissing matches.Report

      • tom van dyke in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Too late, EDK. The caricaturing of “conservatives” in the comments lately has made this blog pritnear unreadable. Deregulate everything, throw granny in the street and then institute a theocracy.Report

      • well okay in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Well but there’s where you original point was correct. Though I would have framed it a little differently. We live in a basically free market economy, and NO ONE is suggesting that we depart radically from it. If you have a sense of history, any kind of golden age where markets were signfiantly freer in the United States is at least 75 plus years in the past. We’ve been losing PERSONAL freedoms over the past 10 years, of course, and really it would be nice to see some of the tea party’s ire directed THERE, but this notion of creeping socialism is bunk. If it’s socialism, it isn’t creeping, it’s been in place for many years with bipartisan support.

        Now, there ARE some conservatives and libertarians who would like to turn back the clock, and make the market even freer (though even there there are plenty bones of contention – anarchists in particular would define “free markets” very differently than minarchist libertarians, as you point out). But claiming that progressive opposition to this is opposition to free markets per se – is, as you point out, nonsense.Report

        • E.C. Gach in reply to well okay says:

          “If you have a sense of history, any kind of golden age where markets were signfiantly freer in the United States is at least 75 plus years in the past. We’ve been losing PERSONAL freedoms over the past 10 years, ”

          This is another interesting aspect of the disconnect. How can we even begin to argue when our conception of what constitutes freedom, and on what it is based, is not in agreement.

          I think a lot of the trouble from conservatives and liberals broaching the regulate/free market issue stems from a different idea of where rights come from, what rights are, and who protects them.Report

          • well okay in reply to E.C. Gach says:

            Well to be fair, libertarians would agree with regard to personal freedoms – and really philosophically libertarians and liberals have almost identical conceptions about what constitutes freedom. They differ on which freedoms matter more, and on which values might sometimes trump some freedoms, but the concept of freedom is similar.

            Conservatives on the other hand – and I don’t mean this as a knock (or even to apply to all conservatives) – but I’ve read plenty of conservatives, and I frankly can’t understand what they mean by the term. In reality, I think conservatives frankly favor other values – authority, order, morality as they conceive it – over freedom – but given the status of the concept of freedom (in the abstract, at least) in our society, they feel the need to appropriate the term to describe something else.

            Again, this doesn’t refer to ALL conservatives – I’d say that two types of conservatives really do value freedom in a meaningful way – libertarian oriented conservatives, and localists – but they are very much marginalized in the modern debate – even if some of both groups are deluded into thinking that the modern tea party movement is in some sense supportive of their goals.Report

            • E.C. Gach in reply to well okay says:

              I might have misinterpreted you as associating capital F Freedom with economic freedoms.

              Sullivan and other “traditional” conservatives usually have this as a cornerstone of their political philosophy. That is, that freedoms in general flow from economic liberalism, making property rights and such not only important freedoms, but actually the basis for all other freedoms.

              In that light, it is easy to see why those who do oppose regulation do so with such enthusiasm. In that framework, individual economic autonomy would indeed be sacrosanct.Report

              • well okay in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                Well but that’s what I mean about “differ[ing] on which freedoms matter more, and on which values might sometimes trump some freedoms.” Just because some libertarians prioritize property rights, it doesn’t mean they aren’t also concerned with other freedoms. If they are not … well, then they aren’t really libertarians. They are conservatives – in even there, functionally most conservatives are notconsitent defenders of property rights either, at least not to the extent libertarians are. Again, not meant as a knock but descriptive.

                Now, seperate subject, there is ALSO a certain amount of boundry dispute about property rights – e.g., regarding the commons* and intellectual property rights. But there is no inherent difference between how liberals and libertarians treat these issues – though in practice there often are.

                *Many libertarians historically – and even some now – would agree that there is no “right” to pollute the air and water – while disagreeing upon remedies for violations of those rights – sadly the libertarian movement qua movement has – err, there is no way to put this politely – mostly abandoned this principle, in response to economic inducement.Report

              • E.C. Gach in reply to well okay says:

                There is also the problem of the positive/negative rights divide between those who think one can distinguish between them and those who do not e.g. I have an obligation not to hurt you but not to prevent harm that might follow from my “inaction.”Report

              • Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                Which of my obligations to you am I failing to meet right now, E.C.?

                For the record, I think I feel pretty safe in saying that I am meeting all of my “negative” ones.

                Which of your obligations to me are you failing to meet, right now?Report

              • E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                It depends, are you in mortal danger at the moment?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                I probably am going to die someday. I don’t know when, though.Report

              • E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well if what kills you is preventable, and the worth of saving you is more than the detriment to me in having to do it, than there is an argument that says I am obligated, and it is as legitimate, if more consistent, than the one that says I am not.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Who measures the detriment?

                How would she measure it?Report

              • E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                You are familiar with the general utilitarian argument and Peter Singer’s thought experiments, or should I paraphrase them?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                I am familiar with the general utilitarian argument (and with some of its historical misapplications) but I don’t know which of Peter Singer’s thought experiments you mean.

                The “by sacrificing our luxuries, we could save the lives of children” thought experiment?

                Would I be allowed to ask questions like “How many children could have been helped with the health care that an additional $15k in the system would have been able to provide?” or is that completely different and doesn’t take into account the stuff that happens in practice rather than some idealized theory about resource allocation?Report

              • E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                Someone is gunning tonight.

                Yes it would and yes that is the basic argument.

                If I am walking and see a child drowning, do I have an obligation to save them?

                You might respond, “but only if I see them.”

                If I do not help the drowning child, I have caused him or her to die. That sentence, just now, is at the heart of the matter. I think every libertarian would be rushing into that breach right now screaming “No you didn’t! You didn’t kill her, circumstances did. You didn’t kill her, you just didn’t save her.”

                For strict libertarians, there appears, and do correct me, an invisible line at which point action A becomes action not-A, rather than action B.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, we’re talking about my obligations to you and your obligations to me and our obligations to everybody else and everybody else’s obligations to us.

                To be perfectly honest, this very much seems like everybody is up in everybody’s business.

                I’m one of those crazy people who believes in a “Right to Privacy” and, as such, the idea that all y’all have positive obligations to me beyond merely not getting all up in my business creeps me out.

                How much of your life am I entitled to know about?

                (Please understand, I think that I am entitled to know damn near nothing about you… but if you volunteer the info, that’s totally cool and thank you for that. And the same for me.)

                We are now in completely different parts of the country (I assume, anyway) and it seems to me that my obligations to you are completely and entirely *MET*.

                If they are not, I’d like to know which ones I am not meeting.

                For the record, I can’t think of any obligations that you have to me that you aren’t meeting.Report

              • E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                I understand your want for privacy. Fine. Me too.

                I don’t think the person drowning or the kid starving is concerned about privacy, in that moment, with regard to that piece of information.

                The point is that, in the example, I encounter the person and their plight.

                With the, take your pick of starving darker skinned children around the world, the point is that no prying need take place. This information is public and known.

                So for instance, there was talk a while back on another post about exploitation. You agree, I agree, how could I exploit you in such a “voluntary” contract? I might say, but you “owe” certain workers (using an example of third world labor) more than that. And the libertarian responds, I don’t “owe” them anything more than what I want to “owe” them, which is in this case, whatever price the market forces me to pay.

                In that example, I argue, we have an obligation. Why? Because believer in negative/positive rights says, that I “owe” nothing but my noninterference, while I would posit that, living in an interconnected web of social, economic, cultural and political relationships, “noninterference” is a fiction (similar to “free markets).

                And once the libertarian and I are on the same page and say, well yes, we do owe other people certain things, then yes, we can argue over to what extent these obligations go, BUT, we are beyond the point of some imaginary line that evenly divides all such obligations so that we would no a priori if the obligation were in fact valid.Report

              • well okay in reply to Jaybird says:

                But really this is kind of what I meant by “other values.” I don’t think you can argue that any obligations that might exist towards the children implicate the value of “freedom.” Frankly my personal opinion is that attempts to frame the issue that way are as incoherent as (though less obscene than) conservative attempts to justify killing innocent Iraqis as advancing the “freedom” agenda.

                No, liberals in that instance are arguing that other values are important. And really many libertarians support SOME level of a safety net. Even if you justify it on a positive obligation basis (not by any means the only way to justify it), I think the liberal needs to fairly acknowledge that it’s a case of other values justifying fairly minor constraints on liberty.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                But it seems that the focus is almost exclusively on the various obligations that “we” get to ask “them” to do.

                Here are a handful of things that I wonder… do “they” get to ask things of “us”?

                Let’s say that “we” are getting subsidized health care. Can “they” ask us to exercise more? Eat better? Quit smoking? Drink less?

                Or that “we” are partaking in the social safety net. Can “they” ask that we use protection when we have sex? Or that we pass a drug test in order to qualify for continued benefits?

                Do “we” have any obligation to those who are giving stuff to “us”?

                Or, I suppose, vice versa?

                Because it seems to me that when I lived under my parents’ roof, they had something akin to a right to tell me how to live. What about when more and different people are paying for my roof?Report

              • E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                I don’t have a full response, and I can sympathize with those concerns. They are real problems, and the public will/individual will always seem to be in tension.

                I want affordable healthcare, but I also like drinking too much and jelly donuts. I suppose in that specific case, one compromise might be an increased tax on consumption of those items. So I wonder what your feeling on sin taxes is. I think I remember you favoring them in one scenario, but also seem to recall you being against micro managing the rules for selling soda/pop and happy meals.

                I wonder what your reaction to this anecdote would be. The other night I was driving across western Pennsylvania on route 80, a two lane trucker route. At one point there was an accident several miles up road and a sign a ways back that the left lane was closed from mile markers x to y. I merged immediately because there was plenty of room in the right lane. Tons of cars continued to fly by on the left, and once traffic had backed up to a halt the left lane continued to pass the right. We finally got up to the accident, where a car had gone of the side and another was smashed on the shoulder.

                My first feeling was anger at being punished for merging at the right time, which any one driving knows will happen. My second feeling was bewilderment at why everyone was flying by after the accident on wet roads at 90 miles an hour.

                So the traffic jam is a perfect example of how other people’s freedoms and their excersize of them affect me. My girlfriend and I were driving to her brother’s championship basketball game and ended up not making it, because someone was most likely going to fast on the road, leading to an hour long back up, the injury to the drivers involved in the accident, and the costs involved in the clean up.

                So I wonder what drivers ow other driver in terms of the road.

                Øf course how analogous is this to the rest of the world. We opt to drive, but not to be a citizen.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        The problem is, the Left isn’t any more responsible when it comes to regulation than the Right. Clinton veered all over the landscape like a weathervane swinging in a hurricane. Every so-called Leftie in government has failed to put any meaningful regulations on the books. I’d argue there is no Left out there any more. Obama sure isn’t one. With the death of Ted Kennedy, the Liberal cause might as well be propped up on a pillow alongside Lenin in his tomb.

        Who, exactly, these Un-Free Market Types on the Left? You’re more likely to find a Chupacabra on the floor of the House or Senate. All this snarling and screaming about HCR, for crissakes, the Insurance Industry (Karen Ignagni to be precise) told Obama in no uncertain terms there would be no Public Option or they’d run a billion dollars worth of attack ads against it. Obama crumpled like a piece of tinfoil and took Public Option off the table. Big Pharma, same story. By the time it got passed, HCR was a mandate for everyone to buy health insurance.

        What really makes me laugh is to think HCR expanded a market and Jason’s still whining about the Left. These so-called Lefties bailed out, yet again, at one hundred cents on the dollar, another Free Market Ponzi Scheme, the biggest ripoff in the history of mankind by a long shot. And nobody’s gone to jail! Sho’ nuff, there’s a great note of truth to this idea the Lefties aren’t for Free Markets. In a truly free market system, we’d have let these maniacs eat their losses, AIG would be dead, Angelo Mozilo would be in jail and we’ll all be eating turnips we’d be farming in our front yards.

        What, pray tell, might convince me the Lefties are policy by policy, increment by increment, doing anything to re-regulate the markets?Report

        • well okay in reply to BlaiseP says:

          What you’re missing Blaise is that Obamacare, while yes in some ways a cave in to special interests, and yes not what the progressives wanted, was also NOT a free market reform. Arguably the worst of all worlds. That’s what Jason’s arguing.

          My own take is not quite as harsh as either yours or Jason’s – but what you dont realize is that the two of you are actually AGREEING to a large extent about the legislation. Even he would take single payer – more radical than the public option – over the legislation, and even possibly over the former status quo.

          Pro-industry does not always mean pro-fre market. Though it’s not just liberals who forget this. Conservatives often do, and some libertarians sometimes also foget this (not Jason).Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to well okay says:

            Wrong. Obamacare is a complete cave to special interests. There are actually some cost savings in there, not that you or I will ever see them. Look, if you want to talk Free Market in the health care market, I’m your guy. I’m doing yet another franchise of the largest provider in the country. These guys love HCR. Means they get even more people insured, which means they can actually raise rates while payouts go down, believe it or not. Law of Large Numbers, dude. The more people you insure, the more accurate your payout predictions become.Report

            • well okay in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Um, maybe you should re-read my comment? It’s possible that I am a poor communicator, but whether it’s my fault or your fault, clearly you don’t understand what I’m arguing.

              One area where many (not most) progressives don’t get it is not understanding that measures that benefit private firms are NOT THE SAME THING as measures that benefit the free market. In fact, often – or even ussually – governmental actions that benefit specific private enterprises ACTIVELY HARM the free market.

              Again, you fail to understand that JASON (or me for that matter) DOES NOT DISAGEE with the factual assertions that you are making, by and large*. What you are describing, though, does not represent pro free market legislation, by ANY definition of the term.

              *You’re painting IMO with too broad a brush – but your basic point that the private enterprises – “special interests” – affected by the plan will mostly benefit – is surely correct.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to well okay says:

                This seems to be a theological exercise, much like Man’s Free Will versus Predestination. Advocates of a Free Market say the Market’s over here and the State is over there and the State’s intervention in these Markets is some sort of Bad Thing, except of course to Enforce Contracts, whatever the hell that means.

                A kindergarten child could compose a better definition of a properly operated market. Why don’t you tell me what the difference between Free Enterprise and Free Markets.Report

              • well okay in reply to BlaiseP says:

                No offense, but there is no definitional dispute. The fact the you don’t understand those definitions – does not a dispute make.

                NO ONE (well, no one who understands the terms) thinks that the things you are complaining about are pro-free market. The idea that a requirement that people buy health insurance is pro-free market – is absurd.

                Now, I’ll grant you that your obvious confusion is probably abetted by listening to conservatives who blather on about free markets often then turn around and support anti-free market giveaways to private industry. But that’s not a definitional dispute. That’s just the incoherence of politics.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to well okay says:

                How can it not be a definitional dispute? This is what I find so annoying about Libertarians in general: they don’t understand markets. This has nothing to do with political incoherence. Markets I know, especially risk markets, I trade in some of the riskiest markets.

                Back when Kennedy was assembling his team of advisers, known as the Best and the Brightest, LBJ shook his head sadly and said “I sure wish one of them had been elected to dogcatcher somewhere.”

                My version of it goes in this wise: “I sure wish these Libertarians knew how to trade a hundred lot in an open outcry market.” It would sweep away many silly myths about how the Free Market actually operates.Report

              • well okay in reply to BlaiseP says:

                You do realize that you aren’t making any sense at all?

                You know, it’s entirely possible that libertarians have some unrealistic/idealized conceptions of how markets operate (I think they do!) AND you don’t have the first clue about what you are talking about. It’s just plain nonsensical (in an up down sort of way) to talk about a legeslative reform which forces people to buy insurance (among other market restricting measures) as a pro free market reforms.

                Which is to say, there may be some legitimate defintional issues around the edges, as suggested in my last post, but THIS ISN’T ONE OF THEM. No coherent definition of a free market exists where HCR is a pro-free market reform.

                I’m not super sympathetic to the typical libertarian whine about progressives who ctiricsize libertarians without understanding what they are saying, but in this case they would have a point. I feel like I’m arguing with a tea partier.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                HCR is not a free market reform. Now you tell me, first, what’s a free market.Report

              • Dave in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Libertarians in general: they don’t understand markets. This has nothing to do with political incoherence. Markets I know, especially risk markets, I trade in some of the riskiest markets.

                Comments like this one is exactly why I don’t even bother entertaining these discussions. Since you claim to understand markets, I’ll assume you do and entertain this.

                Yes, I consider myself libertarian; however, by profession I have over 15 years of capital markets experience in commercial real estate including a three-year stint at one of the Wall Street banks (during the height of the real estate bubble). I was sitting next to our CMBS originators who watched that market come screeching to a halt after subprime mortgage defaults spiked and started to decimiate the first loss positions, especially in the CDO markets.

                If I had more abstract views of markets prior to 2008, the crisis demolished them (I have an academic finance background and much of that theory was based largely in certain ideas held by Chicago School types like Eugene Fama).

                I’m more than happy to discuss specifics, but I think one can hold libertarian views, not be a trader and understand how the real world concept of risk (and in some sense market/investor behavior) completely runs roughshod over general conceptions of markets (quite a few libertarians I know understand that actually).

                As an example, I can look at the comments Alan Greenspan made about the subprime mortgage market (which to me sounded like abstract free markets blather) and compare that to the reality of the entire originate-to-securitize model of subprime mortgage lending, much of it done outside of a regulated environment.

                Maybe you’ll think I don’t know how markets operate because you have a different concept than I do, but at least the disagreement will be on that.

                I’m not a trader but I’ve seen a lot, and that has had more of an influence on my views of markets than any political theorist, economist or commitment to ideology and I’m more than capable of proving that point.Report

              • well okay in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Sigh. Words have meaning. I don’t need a comprehensive definition of “free markets” to state that HRC is outside ANY definition of the free market.

                But if you’re going to put that demand on ME it seems to me that you need to satisfy it as well to the extent that you are (laughably) arguing that HCR was a pro-free market reform. What you SEEM to be arguing, taking your posts at face value, is that any assemblage of private enterprises constitutes a free market. And that definition (a) isn’t coherent, and (b) isn’t subscribed to by … well, probably no one but you. Certainly no libertarian or economist uses the term in that sense. I’ll grant you that some conservatives sometimes ACT as if that is the case, but even their muddled thinking wouldn’t go so far as to accept that “definition.”

                But even set that aside – when you’re arguing with libertarians – and they say “no, that’s not what we mean by a free market, and we even agree to a large extent with your analysis of what’s wrong with HCR as it is – we agree that forcing people to buy insurance is bad– even if our ideal reform would be different than yours” – sputtering nonsense along the lines of “HCR is free market friendly, you should be happy” – is – hate to keep using the word – incoherent. Yet you STILL don’t seem to understand that the kind of criticisms of the law that you are making – give away to special interests, etc.- are, by and large, the SAME criticisms made by the libertarians.

                Now, that said, you want a definition – imperfect, contestable around the edges, but basically HOW THE WORD IS DEFINED:

                A free market is a field of trade where buyers and sellers voluntarily exchange goods or services with each other at agreed upon prices. Liberals often (correctly) point out that certain allegedly free markets aren’t in fact free, but that’s not a definitional argument. You won’t see a libertarian who will look at a market containing non-voluntary actors and call it free. (They may quibble about the definition of “voluntary” sometimes, and sometimes ignore the extent to which voluntary exchanges can be limited by non-state actors, but no one – libertarians especially – argues that people being legally required to buy a product by the government are acting “voluntarily”).

                A health care market where that people are forced to participate in is not a free market by any definition.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I don’t need a comprehensive definition of “free markets” to state that HRC is outside ANY definition of the free market.

                She’s been off the market since 1975.Report

          • 62across in reply to well okay says:

            In the current configuration, pro-industry almost never means pro-free market.Report

        • Kolohe in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Ted Kennedy,

          Nobody on either side seems to remember anymore that it was Ted Kennedy who led the hearings and ultimately was the prime mover within the Congress for the legislation that deregulated airlines and trucking (and voted for telcom deregulation in the mid 90’s and btw voted for the final conference version of Glass-Stegal repeal in ’99)Report

  4. North says:

    Well said E.D.Report

  5. dmbeaster says:

    It seems this is mostly a semantic argument about what is a “free” market. The concept as first espoused by Adam Smith was in opposition to a completely controlled market for the benefit of the crown and ruling classes – not so much free of any and all types of regulation, but free for anyone to enter. He was writing in response to a tradition which awarded exclusive monopolies in various forms of business in exchange for kicking some of the proceeds up to the crown and ruling class – competition as we know it was largely unknown.

    Since then, we experienced a much more free wheeling capitalism at the inception of the industrial revolution – which really peaked in the 1880s through 1920s. Anyone who thinks that era created a better society and more efficient markets than we have now is blatantly ignorant.

    By definition, completely unregulated capitalism is a disaster, and it also kills off free markets since that is the interest of the winners in the free market competition. Once you accept that all sorts of trade regulations are necessary in order to prevent fraud and various anti-competitive practices, and you discover just how much regulation is actually necessary for the market to function well. Markets without such protections are far less efficient – for all the belly-aching about the SEC, the securities laws overall provide far more benefit than they cost (though they can always be tweaked, and more is not always better in terms of regulation). The reduction in transaction costs (as the term is used in economics) is enormous, which enables far more transactions to be done with far more efficiency.

    Large parts of our economic world do not make sense to relegate to free markets. Examples are basic public roads and many utility services – you are not going to have competing roads or electric lines serving your house.

    So its always a value judgment about how much freedom and how much regulation. You do not automatically get more efficiency from more freedom in the market. And then there are the value judgments that we impose as part of our society, for better or worse, on the markets. We accept some of the cost in exchange for preservation of various values (i.e., you cannot sell yourself as a slave).

    This is liberal capitalism as the term was first known starting in the 1900s with the original progressives. Modern progressives today still believe in that tradition as refined over the decades. It is always about cost-benefit analysis of regulation, and the values that we seek to promote with regulations. If more benefit flows from removing a particular regulation, then it is because the cost/benefit analysis did not work out for that principle – not because of some imaginary inherent value in free markets.Report

  6. E.C. Gach says:

    I think a lot of the pissing over who can fetishize the market would be avoided if people just stopped using “markets,” or “public good,” as the god term of their argument.

    If someone wants to advocate a certain policy, just examine the policy on it’s own merits, and effects, and whether or not we want them, rather than arguing that, on the one hand policy x will let the market off the leash on onto the people’s throats, OR policy x will single-handedly dismantle the “free market.”

    Once we all agree that there should be SOME sorts of interferences what an ideal market in the state of nature might have been like, no regulation can be bad by fact of simply being a piece of regulation.

    And once we admit that this whole thing is a continuum, any point we choose on the to regulate or not to regulate scale is arbitrary, and the only thing that can really help us decide is a thoughtful discussion of the likely/probably/possible pros and cons of the proposal under discussion.Report

    • 62across in reply to E.C. Gach says:

      Dead on. Thank you.Report

    • dmbeaster in reply to E.C. Gach says:

      Well said. Reasoning from general principles ends up in debates over definitions of terms. Its always about the specifics and what is practical and workable.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to E.C. Gach says:

      That’s great, until you realize policies always seem to involve money. It’s about that time when reason goes out the window and the knives get drawn, and the sacred cows are paraded around.

      Policy degenerates to what people will tolerate, a least common denominator. Something is needed, someone’s got to pay for it, or borrow the money, it all becomes exceedingly tiresome and emotional and nonsensical.Report

    • E.C. Gach in reply to E.C. Gach says:

      I swear English is my first language.Report

    • James K in reply to E.C. Gach says:

      I’ll go along with this, but then I’m a professional policy wonk so I basically do that for a living.

      For me the key situation where regulation is appropriate is market failure (a term I can define fairly precisely if necessary). Show me a genuine market failure and I’ll concede an opening for regulation. The policy would still have to pass a benefit-cost test of course, but that’s not unreasonable is it?

      I don’t consider distributional concerns a reason for direct regulation in markets, but I’m OK with transfer payments so long as they’re not going to break the bank.Report

      • tom van dyke in reply to James K says:

        JamesK, New Zealand is a series of islands at the buttend of the world.

        If y’all didn’t speak Inglish, nobody would give a shit about you. You do have a beautiful and mostly virgin land and a good people populating it.

        You island nations are interesting but not probative. Absent a United States of America and its defense shield, you’d be speaking the language of the Japanese Empire right about now.

        Ingratitude is understandable, but not excusable. Fortunately and to Kiwi credit, you are not French.Report

        • James K in reply to tom van dyke says:

          I’m sorry, but your comment has precisely what to do with anything? Yes indeed the US was instrumental in the Pacific theatre in WWII (I’d say they were incidental at best in the European and and African theatres, but they definitely mattered in the Pacific), and some of the things that the US military does now (especially the navy) are important for global security. But essentially none of that matters when discussing economic policy, and you were the first person to raise it.

          So what exactly was your point?Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

          Do Not Feed the Troll.Report

  7. Ben says:

    It seems like there’s been a lot of shifts recently in political discourse. Exhibit one is holy shit actually discussing American political economy. The series about labor and its interaction with politics and the broader economy on this blog has been an excellent example.

    Exhibit two is an issue that this post gets at orthogonally and that I want to highlight explicitly: that talk of “free markets” obscures the very things that need to be brought up when the questions of constructing an economy are discussed.

    Bernard Harcourt’s Illusions of Free Markets (it’s now a book, but ssrn paper-length version available here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1450904) makes this argument forcefully. In the abstract, markets simply cannot exist without heavy state involvement in setting up and running the rules of the marketplace. In empirical fact, even the most free markets we have employ heavy regulation in order to function (Harcourt uses the example of the thousands of pages of rules governing the Chicago Board of Trade).

    To use the term “free market” ignores the heavy state hand in shaping any market. To speak of “free market policies”, to be in favor of “less regulation”, is nearly nonsensical; what the speaker means is that she is in favor of specific policies that have specific consequences. Likewise with being for “a more regulated economy”, or to want “more regulation”.

    E.D. gets mostly this far in the post, but turns away at the last second. We could indeed “stop using the term ‘free market’ “, but the only reason it would devolve into a pissing contest is if we still employ the mental idea of “free markets that are subjected to more or less state regulation.”
    If we instead use the more correct idea of “economies which are shaped with specific state policies”, the pissing contest goes away: the liberal says “I want X specific policies for Y consequences”, likewise the libertarian and the anarchist. Dmbeaster and E.C. Gach make much the same points above.

    Not only would thinking and speaking in this manner be more correct, precise and avoid the semantical debates that this thread is partly about, it would also expose the distributional consequences of state-economic interaction that talk about “free markets” and “more or less regulation” obscures.

    As an example: giving public utilities to private companies through a no-bid process, taking bids for the selling of the utilities, allowing private companies to run the utility but putting restrictions on the amount prices can fluctuate, and retaining public control of the utility but allowing prices to fluctuate according to supply and demand are all arguably “free market” policies and involve the same amount of regulation, but have vastly different distributional consequences. To distinguish among them we have to talk about the specific regulations being discussed and look at the specific distributional consequences of each set of regulations.

    It’s very encouraging that this stuff is starting to be discussed. American political discourse is stunted and idiotic for the most part, but has been making small steps forward recently, especially around these parts. Keep up the good work.Report

    • well okay in reply to Ben says:

      Assuming that you are correct about the government’s role in the operation of free markets (I think you are to some extent, though I wouldn’t go as far, and this is contested ground), your conclusion doesn’t follow. It still makes sense to talk about free markets – all you are really saying it that government actions can enhance rather than impede free markets. Markets are still more or less free. And the existence of free markets matters in terms of outcomes – even if the results don’t always come out on the benefit side of the equation.

      And your own example buttress my argument. No one with any sense is going to honestly call that a free market reform. Oh, yes, stakeholders* may try to use the term to call it that … but if we banned every political/economic term that was subject to misuse we would have a pretty impoverished political discourse.

      I think you argument goes more to rebutting fundamentalist rights-based libertarianism. And once we leave that behind, and move toward a more consequentialist framework (with rights based side constraints), we can indeed have the kind of conversation that you desire. But “free markets,” properly understood, still plays a role in that conversation.

      *It doesn’t help that there are a bunch of conservatives – not many libertarians, but some of those too – who join in the perversion of the term. But, again, the answer isn’t to abandon the term, but to use it correctly. As most libertarians do, whatever illusions that may have about those markets.Report

  8. Kaleberg says:

    There seems to be a double standard. Communism gets to fail once, but the free market system seems to get as many failures as it wants. It’s hard to take that kind of argument seriously.Report

    • tom van dyke in reply to Kaleberg says:

      Communism failed numerous times, everywhere it’s been tried. Even a nominal defense of it is rather obscene.

      As for free markets, this sort of cant is always puzzling coming from a fat happy western 21st centurian.

      First we’re told there ARE no free markets, then we’re told they don’t work. My scorecard is now illegible, with all the scratchouts and addenda. Serves me right for trying to make sense of the leftish argument, which is against something but it’s always hard to tell what.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to tom van dyke says:

        There are no perfectly free markets, anywhere in the world. None.

        The mixed economy has been a great success. It’s quite arguable what the proper mix is. To insist that the American mix is always superior to the European mix is pure ideology. Raising the specter of Russian communism to attack Sweden is purest nonsense.Report

      • Heidegger in reply to tom van dyke says:

        Tom, promise, honest to goodness, DID NOT steal your words!

        You: “Communism failed numerous times, everywhere it’s been tried.”

        Me: “Kaleberg, Failed once? How about failed every single time it’s ever been tried.”

        Pure coincidence my friend. Heavy fines along with civil action should certainly be considered, though. And I’m sure the honorable Prof. Hanley would dismiss it as just another example of great minds thinking alike! Das tut mir leid.Report

    • Heidegger in reply to Kaleberg says:

      Kaleberg, Failed once? How about failed every single time it’s ever been tried. Can you pick out a successful Communist attempt among these states and countries? Gool Luck and clock’s a’tickin my friend.

      “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel or envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.” – W. Churchill

      Yugoslavia (Informbiro 1948)
      Albania (following the Sino-Soviet split)
      People’s Republic of China (following the Sino-Soviet split)
      Democratic Kampuchea (1975–1979, under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge)
      Somali Democratic Republic (1977–1991, due to the Ogaden War

      East Germany
      North Vietnam/Vietnam (after 1975)
      Albania (ended participation in Comecon after 1961 due to Sino-Soviet Split)
      North Korea was a Soviet ally, but always followed a highly isolationist foreign policy and therefore it did
      Egypt (1954–1973)
      Syria (1955–1991)
      Iraq (1958–1963)
      Guinea (1960–1978)
      Somalia (1961–1976)
      Ghana (1964–1966)
      Peru (1968–1975)
      Sudan (1968–1972)
      Libya (1969–1991)
      People’s Republic of the Congo (1969–1991)
      Chile (1970–1973)
      People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (1970–1990)
      Uganda (1971–1979)
      Madagascar (1972-?)
      People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (1974–1991)
      Lao People’s Democratic Republic (1975–1991)
      Benin (1975–1979)
      Mozambique (1975–1990)
      Angola (1977–1991)
      Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (1978–1991)
      Grenada 1979-1983
      Nicaragua (1979–1990)
      People’s Republic of Kampuchea (1979–1989)
      [edit] Communist states opposed

      East Germany
      North Vietnam/Vietnam (after 1975)
      Russian SFSR (which in turn included several autonomous republics)
      Ukrainian SSR
      Byelorussian SSR
      Uzbek SSR
      Kazakh SSR
      Georgian SSR
      Azerbaijan SSR
      Lithuanian SSR
      Moldavian SSR
      Latvian SSR
      Kirghiz SSR
      Tajik SSR
      Armenian SSR
      Turkmen SSR
      Estonian SSR
      Some of these countries were not Communist states. They are marked in italic.

      Egypt (1954–1973)
      Syria (1955–1991)
      Iraq (1958–1963)
      Guinea (1960–1978)
      Somalia (1961–1976)
      Ghana (1964–1966)
      Peru (1968–1975)
      Sudan (1968–1972)
      Libya (1969–1991)
      People’s Republic of the Congo (1969–1991)
      Chile (1970–1973)
      People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (1970–1990)
      Uganda (1971–1979)
      Madagascar (1972-?)
      People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (1974–1991)
      Lao People’s Democratic Republic (1975–1991)
      Benin (1975–1979)
      Mozambique (1975–1990)
      Angola (1977–1991)
      Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (1978–1991)
      Grenada 1979-1983
      Nicaragua (1979–1990)
      People’s Republic of KampucheaReport

  9. tom van dyke says:

    And vice-versa, sir.

    “To insist that the American mix is always superior to the European mix is pure ideology.”

    But I congratulate you on your coherence. My reservation with the Eurostatist model is that its track record is barely a half-century old, and I’m not convinced of a) its viability and/or b) applicability to the USA.Report