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Issue: Free Market Fantasy

by J. Michael Atherton

The NH Republican platform proclaims proudly, “We believe in… free markets, and free enterprise.”  The problem with this aspiration is that outside their political hocus-pocus there is no such thing as a free market. 

The No Free Lunch Principle by Kazz, Word Press

What they hope for and what exists do not overlap except in their fantasy propaganda.  “Free market” is a political term devised to promote an economy that favors the wealthy and harms workers. The term “free market” strokes the egos of those who worship all things labeled “free,” except for a “free lunch,” which they oppose because they believe it discourages workers. 


You might ask how anyone can say there is no free market. It depends on how you define it. 

Republican policy makers conjure up an economic system without regulations, laws, or restraints on their constant quest for ever more wealth. They rebel against regulations and see them as government interfering with the so-called invisible hand of the market that they think rewards effort of the sharp and gifted and punishes the lethargy of the lazy and inept. All is well in their universe if the government just doesn’t muck up this divinely wrought system. 

Bernie Madoff mugshot, 2009 Credit: Wikipedia

Not only does such a “free market” not exist, it should not. Instead the market has quite earthly overseers who enforce laws against, for example, insider trading where someone gets a secret stock tip and uses it to get an advantage over other traders.  What about Ponzi schemes? Maybe someone’s sorry for Bernie Madoff who used high-flying financial razzle-dazzle to bilk billions of dollars from investors. What about pump and dump schemes where schemers pump their stock to raise its price and dump it at an artificially high price making a fortune at the expense of everyone else? Should we allow them to run fast and free? 

The list of illegal schemes grows every day because big money tempts ingenious people to break the law. If the government doesn’t fight these schemes, then who fights them? Without regulations and regulators such things as insider trading, Ponzi schemes, and pump and dump schemes would wreak havoc on our economy.


We need to ensure markets are not rigged to profit one class or person at the expense of others. No invisible hand gives us such insurance. Markets need to be overseen by well educated, attentive, and motivated people who, of course, receive pay for their efforts.


Thus not only does a market free of regulations and laws not exist, but we also must pay people to maintain a market free of animus toward specific groups or people. Free markets have regulations and people who regulate them. If that is what you mean by “free market” then all is well and good. In contrast, if you think a free market exists outside of any governance and governors, then you are economically deluded, mistaken, mis-informed, uninformed, or ignorant. We need hard-headed regulators who ensure we have a level playing field, who value innovation and creativity accomplished by those who play by the rules, and who see economics as a servant of the people, not the other way around.


About the author

J. Michael Atherton (Mike) has retired from 30 years of teaching philosophy(after 20 years of teaching a variety of subjects from elementary to graduate school). He spent four years in the

Peace Corps in Swaziland (now Eswatini), followed by marriage to Cynthia Walter, the birth of their first child, and a PhD all at the University of Chicago. They moved to Southwest Pennsylvania where Cynthia taught ecology and he taught philosophy while they raised two daughters. They moved to Dover in 2019 to be near their two grandsons in Maine. He has consistently found the Dems to be a group that publicly and privately follows their stated values: compassion, honesty, integrity, respect the dignity of all people, expanded freedom, responsible citizenship, promoting civil society, and protecting our environment. And they are great fun to be around. A winning combination!



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