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Why People Blame the Free Market

Because they won't admit that what they really resent is individual freedom.

by James Leroy Wilson
August 20, 2009

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Why People Blame the Free Market

Our financial collapse, many claim, was the result of an "unregulated free market." Facts and common sense tell us it was neither unregulated nor a free market. We can also point to other causes - the malinvestment directly caused by the government-controlled Federal Reserve System, fraudulent fractional-reserve banking that a government which is actually interested in protecting rights would prohibit rather than protect, and runaway government debt.

Likewise, many claim the "free market" is to blame for America's health care woes, even though government already pays for more than half of it and controls much more through regulation. Charity clinics are even outlawed in most states, and hospitals are disallowed from posting the prices of their procedures. Yeah, some "free market" system this is!

But I'm afraid such arguments explaining that we have no "free market" at all will fall on many deaf ears. The "free market" is the scapegoat which advocates of Big Government will use, but at the core what they really, really resent is individual freedom.

To illustrate, let me pick out cases involving six football players. Consider these three incidents first:

  • 1995: Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips drags ex-girlfriend down the stairs of an apartment building and bangs her head against the lobby mailboxes. Is sentenced to probation. Later settles with victim. His football coach is criticized for eventually reinstating him to the team, and people are curiously more outraged by that than by the fact Phillips didn't get any jail time. (Phillips is now facing 25 years in prison for violent crimes that occurred many years later.)
  • 2000: Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is charged for the stabbing murders of two men in a fight at a Super Bowl party. Initially he's the primary suspect, but then witnesses change their stories. Pleads to obstruction of justice in exchange for his testimony against two other suspects, who were subsequently acquitted. No one was ever convicted of the murders. Lewis later settles with the families of the victims.
  • 2009: Browns wide receiver Donte Stallworth kills a man in a drunk driving incident in Miami. Settles with the victim's family and serves 24 days in jail - along with two-year house arrest, 1000 hours community service, and lifetime Florida driver's license suspension.

What was the common thread in these incidents? Actual harm was done to other human beings, and they or their families received compensation. Every legal system in the history of civilization addressed assault, murder, and accidental manslaughter.

Now contrast the above with the following three incidents:

  • 2004: Then-Ravens running back Jamal Lewis is convicted of "conspiracy" to a drug deal that, over the course of three years, never actually took place. Gets several months in prison. (I write about this in my book Ron Paul Is A Nut (And So Am I.)
  • 2008: Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress accidentally shoots himself at a New York City nightclub with a gun that was registered in another state. Facing a maximum of one year for reckless endangerment, and a minimum of 3.5 years each for two counts of felony gun possession.  In other words, he will be punished mainly for the mere possession and NOT for the reckless endangerment.
  • 2009: Former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick released after serving 18 months for federal dogfighting-related charges, even though the dogs were his own property.

The most "serious" crimes for which Lewis, Burress, and Vick faced didn't actually involve harming other human beings (see "Michael Vick's Property" for a discussion on property and animal rights). Nobody was wronged. Nobody was entitled to compensation. Yet each served or will serve far longer than what Stallworth got, and he killed a man!  (I understand these incidents occurred in different jurisdictions, so while I point out the irony, I'm not necessarily blaming the inequities in the legal "system.")

To support the drug laws Lewis was prosecuted under is to say that individuals don't have the right to control their own bodies. To support gun-carrying bans is to say that individuals do not have the right to defend themselves or others. To ban dogfighting is to say that individuals don't have the right to control their own property - in effect saying it's not their property at all.

All of these claims come down to this: individuals do NOT have the right to do as they please, even if they don't harm anyone else. Individuals must be controlled. Freedom is bad.

Years ago I had a conversation with a friend about an English grocer who was arrested and fined for selling his produce in English weights instead of the metric system as mandated by the European Union in Brussels. This friend saw nothing wrong with this prosecution, citing "efficiency." The mutual consent of this grocer and his buyers - their own "efficiency" or convenience - should not be considered. Mutually-beneficial exchanges somehow add up to an inefficient system, so their freedoms must be infringed upon for the "good" as determined by foreign-born EU bureaucrats.

Unsurprisingly, this same friend blames the "free market" for America's health care mess.

Imagine, however, if a deal was struck. A public health service is set up, with tax rates increasing 15% across the board to pay for it, but along with that, private health care would be allowed, unsubsidized and completely unregulated. No licensing requirements, no drug laws, no nothing except laws against coercion and fraud. Religious healing, weird exotic treatments - everything permitted. If people don't trust the private system, they can always use the public system. If they don't trust the drugs without FDA approval, they can use the public system.

Advocates of socialized medicine would go into a conniption. They would reject the deal. They would claim the best doctors would reject working for the public system in favor of the private. (They ignore the fact that in the system they want, the best potential doctors would choose law school or the business world instead of medical school.) They would say the rich would get better treatment.  They would recognize that, even with all the higher taxes, the private system would attract the most clients. They would have their fully-funded public system, but they would lose the most precious aspect - complete control of other people's lives.

I genuinely believe this is the goal of most "health care reformers." Not better care, not lower costs, just more control to make things look "fair" or "even." To reduce the choices of individuals and expand government control over our lives.

Perhaps I'm being unfair. Perhaps that is NOT the goal of most reformers. If so, please write in! Tell me you'd support an unregulated private system as long as a public system existed. And also tell me you believe Lewis got screwed, possession charges against Burress should be dropped, and Vick should be pardoned.

I'm not betting on a large response.

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