THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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Guest Post: Against Market Extremists

"What do you get for the man who has everything?"

Market orientated Libertarians believe that this is the most important question facing our society. The more extreme believe that we should stake our lives on finding a satisfactory answer - if we can't produce something that someone else wants to buy, we should do the decent thing and die quietly.

British society in general seems to have accepted that the unemployed are guilty of a terrible sin in failing to contribute to production and must therefore be degraded or left destitute as punishment. Some Keynesians would rather have the unemployed smashing windows than doing nothing. Libertarians object to this not on the grounds of wasted time, but wasted money (though they believe fiat currency to be worthless).

I say let them go fishing.

I say this for two reasons. Firstly, if the unemployed are lazy, we will not lose very much from them not working. You can't force people to do non-robotic jobs, which deal with people, well. You have to concentrate on persuading them.

Secondly, if the unemployed are highly skilled and productive workers but demand for their work is low, why punish them?

You might claim that even if we consumers do not know what we want, it is the job of workers to discover our hidden desires and satisfy them. This is what Steve Jobs did. Steve Jobs was especially astute/ruthless/lucky. The unfortunate fact is that in the UK 50 odd percent of new businesses fail within a few years. It really isn't easy to decide what people want - with the odds the way they are, entrepreneurship is probably best viewed as a form of socially beneficial insanity (if the butcher, baker and brewer were really looking out for their own self interest, they'd not start a business in the first place). We can't really blame people for failing to divine these secrets.

Free market men, what do you want the unemployed to do and why aren't you paying them to do it?

I accept that most people do not know what to do with themselves without work. Recently, bawling Stockholm syndrome sufferers are an increasingly common sight on our screens. When I see grown men begging for work, it makes me feel queasy - I consider this to be a terrible failure of our education system, the primary purpose of which should be to teach people how to have pleasent lives and how to enjoy their free time with sports, cultural pursuits, friends, family, wine etc. Perhaps as a temporary measure we should give them some work to do.

Of course, in the free market utopia, there will be no problems. There will be no lack of demand, the market mechanism will ensure we inch towards maximum possible utility and charity will replace welfare.

Now, I like markets, I really do. Markets can be a good way to demonstrate, impersonally, what we want and then get it. The problem arises what we want causes difficulties for society generally.

For example, once people have achieved a certain standard of living, they might value increased security (through saving, in libertarian land) more than an extra cream bun. Increased saving will mean less spending, unless there is some other body to make up for this. But if everyone is looking after their own interests, and our own interests are linked to what others think, you could end up with all kinds of horrid cascade effects, demand shortages and, if we follow market- extremist principles starvation/civil war.

What we need is a body which is not concerned for its own utility, the government, which can intervene and spend money into the economy when such things happen. Real market-extremists reject this on entirely religious grounds - the government must be wrong, there can be no market failure... everything will be perfect once the free-market arrives, hallelujah!

The major problem here is that just as the efficient market can only exist to the extent we don't believe in it (remember the profesor leaving the dollar on the floor), the free market utopia would only ever be able to exist among people who were constantly questioning what was happening in their society. I don't know what the solutions to our social/ economic problems are, but sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting "markets!" over and over, can't be it.

(BTW, am I the only one who notices similarities between extreme market libertarians and communism ? The free market is always around the corner...)

The sad thing is, that there is nothing especially "anti-market" about the government controlling the money supply. In a society where we must do business with people we don't know, we have to have some outside body providing our money. The government producing money enables markets rather than destroying them - it is this which allows us to do business with each other.

And, if a man does pointless work and eats one day, how are we worse off if he does no work and eats the next? Why is it especially offensive if the government is neccesary to facilitate this?

[Mark's opinions are his own and do not represent the viewpoint of The Last Ditch]

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