Free markets mean a freer working class

Free markets aren't just efficient or wealth enhancing; if you value political freedom, they are morally good. Photo: AP

WASHINGTON, April 8, 2013 ― The late Chicago economist Milton Friedman argued there is a vital interrelationship between political and economic freedom. He deviated from his Austrian colleagues on monetary policy, but he was undeniably correct in this assertion.

No matter how hard, for example, the People’s Republic of China strives to put its economy on a market footing, the people of China will never know the taste and feel of freedom like their brothers to the east know it because China still remains a one-party state. Professor of Political Economy Yasheng Huang recently expounded on this in his essay “Democratize or Die” in February’s issue of Foreign Affairs.  

Free markets don’t just promote political freedom as Friedman suggested; they also promote volunteerism as Murray Rothbard argued, concord as Frédéric Bastiat argued, and choice as Thomas Sowell has argued, among a whole host of other vital sociological fundamentals important to enjoying everyday life.

And yet despite the fact that world history is full of examples of economies ― Hong Kong, South Korea and Brazil, for instance ― that have flourished as a result of freer markets, there are still large swaths of America that remain fearful and cynical of the idea of reducing government involvement in the economy.

The kneejerk explanation for this is that some people just don’t understand free-market capitalism. But that conclusion is elitist. The average person barely has time to sit down and glance over the daily headlines, let alone spend the day absorbing Adam Smith’s “Inquiry Into The Wealth Of Nations.” But none of this means the average working class person doesn’t understand or isn’t willing to embrace free-market capitalism.

Thus, the first answer paves the way for a far more telling, less attractive, second political answer: an ineffectual courier. That is, a messenger that efficiently reminds people what they already inherently know and practice in a variety of forms throughout the course of everyday life: self-interest, incentives, voluntary exchange, the list goes on.

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Undoubtedly, advocates of socialism have toiled and labored far harder than proponents of socialism’s alternative over the decades and, as a consequence, have made far more inroads. These inroads have in turn not only paid political dividends to a welfare state philosophy bolstered by the subjugation of its own adherents, but erected a seemingly impenetrable ideological monopoly on entire working class communities - in particular, black and Hispanic communities.

One Pew Research Center poll found that “twice as many blacks as whites react positively to socialism,” while more than half of all people that make less than $30,000 view socialism favorably ― sobering if anywhere near correct.

Of course, admitting that the old free-market memorandum has been largely inefficient isn’t easy or convenient. Such an admission requires one to step away from the choir and venture beyond his or her comfort zone. But idling in place could also wield devastating consequences ahead.

In his famous essay “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” Friedrich Hayek argued it is ultimately the intellectual who is responsible for “shaping public opinion,” therefore, is the unobtrusive catalyst behind long-term social change. He was right about the powerful influence “secondhand dealers in ideas” wield.

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However, the notion that legitimate long-term social change can only arrive at the hands of “the intellectual” (as some seem to narrowly interpret Hayek) is offensive and pretentious. Socialists have never limited themselves to just intellectual circles. Equal focus has been given to organizing from the ground up with equal success.

None of this is to suggest there aren’t people or organizations valiantly striving to amend socioeconomic mindsets or landscapes, though. Students For Liberty, Young Americans For Liberty, and The Leadership Institute, for example, have all made tremendous strides in the effort to promote free-market economics, particularly to students. But more can be done — and should be.

The new millennium is overflowing with socioeconomic travesties that relate to and affect the working class. Whereas it takes only three days to start a business in Singapore, it takes an astounding 34 days to start a business in the United States. Whereas only 12 percent of American households are black, an astounding 28 percent of households that receive food stamps are black. Whereas the median household net worth for whites is a comfortable $110,729, the median household net worth for Latinos is only $7,424.

These problems could be remedied, at least in part — if not overnight, close to overnight — with the simple courageous act of removing all market obstruction and opening up the flood gates of human ingenuity and aspiration (taxes and regulations hurt the working class far more than any other class).

In the meantime, advocates of socialism will unquestionably continue to work to convince the working class, specifically minorities, that the free-market is rooted in “corruption, greed, selfishness, the disregard for human life and every other negative human trait” as one scholar appropriately summarized it. But nothing could be further from the truth.  

Indeed, all of humankind’s most contemptible qualities existed in the past, exist today, and will continue to exist in the future irrespective of either capitalism or decreed nobility. The primary difference is the former permits those trampled beneath those contemptible qualities to rise and unshackle themselves and be indebted to no king.

In reality, it’s unlikely the United States will ever be home to a truly unbridled free-market economic system. The idea the United States is home to such a system now, was home to such a system before 2008’s financial crisis, or was home to such a system before 1929’s Great Depression is one of the great myths perpetuated by free-market capitalism’s cunning enemies. Impediments (protectionist policies, central banks etc.) have almost always existed and always will.

However, this doesn’t mean freer markets aren’t an honorable pursuit. If the working class is entitled to anything it’s the freedom to start a business, the freedom to trade, and the freedom to garner a wage without the weight of an overbearing commission, agency, or statute on its shoulders (for example, there is no good reason why an aspiring working class entrepreneur should have to acquire a special license from the state, or face jail or fine, in order to braid hair).

The American journalist H.L. Mencken once noted that, “The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself.” Indeed, if I were to add to this I would suggest any man or woman capable of acting for his or herself is equally as dangerous. And what more is a free-market than a man or woman free to think and act on behalf of his or herself?

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Brandon Loran Maxwell

Brandon Loran Maxwell is an essayist; speaker; playwright; and freelance journalist. His writings have appeared at The Hill, The Washington Examiner, The Oregonian, The Foundation For Economic Education, and Freedoms Journal Magazine, among others. He is a frequent contributor to the Manhattan-based free market urban blog Hip Hop Republican and the Los Angeles-based urban publication Street Motivation Magazine. In addition, Brandon has been profiled by various news outlets and publications, including Glenn Beck’s The Blaze. He studied international politics and film at Brigham Young University.


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