Posted on June 9, 2016
“Free markets” is another term I’m pretty sure almost know one knows what they mean when they use it.
Now I get what it isn’t: in the 20th Century there were failed experiments in many Communist countries where all major prices were determined by the central government as part of the annual plan or the 5 year plan. Moreover calling what remained any kind of “market” at all seems like a misnomer–it was more like a set of internal transactions within one big corporation, which theorists would generally distinguish from market transactions. But that leaves all other economic systems as arguably “free market” systems. So arguably, “free market system” has the same meaning as “market system.”
Except it doesn’t. Nearly always when people talk about “free markets” they are decrying some kind of government control or regulation. So presumably “free market” system has the same meaning as “laissaz faire” system.
Except it doesn’t. There is not and never has been such a thing as a pure laissez faire system in a money economy. Wherever you have markets you have governments defining and regulating some aspects of them (money and taxes and property rights, for starters). And in any case how can you brag about our free market system at the same you attack its unfree markets?
OK, I get the idea of ideal polar types and continua of possibilities. But I would still like to know why so many free market capitalists are rushing to do business in the most overcontrolled major economy on the planet, which is mainland China.
As for me, I pledge never to use the term “free market,” except in quotes or air quotes.
And I will continue to cringe whenever I hear the word, in the same ways that euphemism and empty language and self-congratulation and derp always make me cringe.