Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Free Market  

We hear daily about the blessings of the free market. But we hear a lot less about its limitations. 
In practice it is well understood that some things do well if traded in a market. Other 
things, we believe firmly, should not be traded.  
Human beings should not be bought and sold. We oppose slavery. We oppose human 
trafficking in sex slaves and domestic servants. We do not allow parents to sell their 
We are ambivalent (confused ?) about buying and selling education. Yes, there are for- 
profit schools. They are often unsuccessful. Yes, the children of the rich can get a better 
education than the children of  rest of us. But we also spend significant amounts of public money to educate everyone, regardless of their income. 
The same is true of health care. The wealthy get better care. No doubt. But a good deal
 of public money is spent to pay for at least some health care for everyone.  
If you think about it, we believe in the free market within definite limits. Not
 everything should be traded in the market.  
Where the market does not serve everyone, other means must be taken to meet
 legitimate needs. According to the Declaration of Independence we are all entitled to “life,
 liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Where the market does not serve those rights, we need to 
make other arrangements.  
Commodities traded in a market yield a profit for the traders. But some items we think 
should not be traded for a profit, such a human beings, health care, education, controlled 
Our recent experience suggests two other items that should also be removed from the 
market: political power and savings.  
 There should not be a market in political power.  Political power should not be for sale.
 It should be illegal to trade in political influence.  
Last year the Supreme Court decided that corporations—being persons before the law
—should not be limited in how much money they spend to express their political opinions. 
They should be able to spend as much money in politics as they choose. Global  corporations
 have much greater resources than ordinary citizens. In that decisions the Supreme Court 
completed a development, long in the making, that the country would, in effect, be run by the
 very rich.  
That is so obvious a betrayal of what we think and say we stand for—democracy—that
 it must be reversed. We need to take politics out of the market place. We need to take the 
market traders out of politics.  
When you retire, Social Security will not pay you enough to live, let alone comfortably. 
We are hence encouraged to save for our old age. So you put your money in the bank. 
The bank uses the money to speculate in dot.com stocks, in bad mortgages, in whatever. 
When the bubble bursts the economy is in recession, you loose your job and can no 
longer save for your old age.  
It is clear that savings of ordinary citizens should not be available to banks to make
 risky investments. Savings should be taken out of the market. Today cooperative banks are 
essentially not for profit enterprises. They are associations of citizens who want to have a 
place to keep their savings and to manage them. All banks should be not for profit. If the 
bankers have money of their own they want to risk in the hope of getting rich quick, that 
is their privilege. But please do not use MY money for that.  
Markets are extremely useful for a number of reasons. But not everything is suitable for trading in a market. 
There should be no market in education: everyone should have an even chance at the
 very best education they can use. We are all equally entitled to pursue our happiness and 
equally entitled to be as well equipped for that, as possible.  
 There should be no market in health care. There should no market in our savings. We 
are all equally entitled to life.  
 We are all entitled to freedom. Political participation should not be for sale to the
 highest bidder.