A decade ago Terence Ball wrote a critique of some Frankenstein-like creature meant to represent free market ideology. He robbed the graves of men and women as diverse as Murray Rothbard, Margaret Thatcher, Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand to put it together and came up with something that no libertarian would endorse, I suspect, but which nevertheless is recognizable as libertarian(ish). It may not be the same species, but it is in the same genus. Or at least the same family.
He imagined a country called Marketopia and described how life would be there, with the purpose of showing us that while markets are good for some things, there are areas where they are inappropriate. As he wrote, “why do some (or perhaps all) Marketopian practices make many – perhaps most – of us uneasy or queasy, or worse?” The great problem with his essay is that he never demonstrates to the reader’s satisfaction that he understands what his own argument is. He claims to be interested in three questions: Why do people get queasy at the practices of Marketopia, what distortions of the language would Marketopia produce and are we already headed towards Marketopia.
About the second question I care nothing at all, and about the third… well, watching a statist fretting over how close we are to a Free Market is a bit like listening to a neocon quaking that Iran presents a military threat to the United States. It would be less embarrassing to watch a grown man sleep with a night light to protect him from the Bogey Man in his closet. The first question bears some scrutiny, however, but I wish I could do it knowing what exactly Dr. Ball had in mind.
Is this Marketopia supposed to be what would always happen if libertarianism ever won the day, or is he just demonstrating how market activity is inappropriate for some relationships? If the latter is his point, I would say he came up with a handful of examples where I agree with him, but what does he propose to do about it? If the former, it should be pointed out that many of these activities are legal now but do not occur.
There are some seriously mistaken individuals who seem to think so. Take a quote like this:
The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson in humility which should guard against him becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society [and destroying] a civilization which no brain designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.
– F.A. Hayek
They say that Hayek’s insight also applies to libertarians and, for example, our attempts to “force” free trade and unregulated labor markets on “society.”
Guilds, poor laws, and limits on trade also grew from the free efforts of millions of individuals, did they not? Well, no, actually they didn’t — at least not insofar as they attempted to use the state to impose the preferences of some on others by force!
Libertarians, of course, have no quarrel with voluntary associations and such voluntary actions as charity and boycotting. But… guilds and labor unions have tended to employ the state to impose their preferences on others; poor laws were historically and are by definition instruments of state policy; and limits on trade have historically been imposed on us by the state. There is nothing free or voluntary about them.
Voters in Madison, Wisconsin recently approved a measure asserting that corporations do not have constitutional rights.
The measure correctly asserts that only individuals have rights. But then it proceeds to state that corporations do not. This is collectivism at its finest. A corporation doesn’t act. People act. Although the “corporation” doesn’t have rights as an entity, each and every owner of the corporation does. The owners exercise those rights by having agents (the management) act on their behalf. When we speak of a corporation acting, this is merely an abstraction from the individuals involved. As Stephan Kinsella has explained, corporations are nothing more than a series of contracts enabling a large number of people to work together toward common goals.
This resolution, though purporting to support individual rights, is in reality opposed to such rights because it claims that these rights somehow disappear when the individuals who have them choose to use them in a coordinated manner.