Friday, May 13, 2011

No Such Thing As A Free Market

I've heard it said that if you feed birds in the winter, you have to keep feeding them until spring.  That's because the birds cancel their travel plans when they find your food, and if you cut off the supply, it'll be too late for them to book a swanky resort down south.

I've also heard it said, I think by some of the same people, that we should shop at small local stores, instead of the big box stores or ... gasp! ... on-line.  I think the idea is to support virtuous, caring neighbors instead of big impersonal, ruthless corporations.  But somehow, those virtuous neighbors are like the poor little birdies in the winter.  We're not doing them any favors by deluding them into a false sense of security.

So it comes down to the question: Do we want the good guys to win, or do we want the market forces to decide.  "Market forces" is one of those great guilt-avoidance terms.  Businesses don't succeed or fail based on individual buyers, even the bird-and-neighbor-loving kind.  They are driven by market forces.

Of course, the free market advocates will say that the good guys always win.  That's because in the free market, "good" is defined as "winning."  The "invisible hand" is a kind of Capitalist superhero who sees to that.

Let's say some meat packing company decides to sell dog food as hamburger, to cut costs.  Sure they save money, and they can sell their "hamburger" cheaper than anyone else.  But once people start to get sick, and it's traced to this meat, it will hurt business and the company will suffer.  See?  Automatic justice by the invisible hand.

Of course, if no one gets sick or traces it back to this company's meat, then you're going to be eating a lot of Alpo.  All of the competitors of this company will start doing the same thing.  They have to, in order to compete.  And there's that invisible hand again.

So that's how the economy works, which is okay as long as you're not a dog or a bird.

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