Thursday, January 29, 2009
Gapper reports on a loss of American faith in the free market and suggests we might be back in 1919 when 'the public's trust in institutions is exhausted'. The comments on his post should be read. I'm not sure public trust in institutions is the issue here. Of course, nobody would now trust a director of RBS or Citibank as far as they could throw them, but trust in the British Museum or MOMA is probably unaffected. Companies should not really be seen as institutions, however reassuring their advertising. The issue is the free market. One side says this all shows totally free markets lead to anarchy, the other says free markets are the only way and they've never been given their chance because of government interference. The latter argument is just plain stupid because a) it sounds like those dumb Marxists who still wander around saying they are right but have never been given a proper chance and b) governments create markets. (And please nobody say - as somebody always does - that paleolithic man made markets. It's just not the point and if you can't see why, I can't help you.) The problem is, I think, the phrase 'free market' because it is utopian, there has never been and will never be any such thing. (Paleolithic man would have thought he was trading freely until Ug turned up with his mates and beat him to death with a mammoth tusk. Free markets, you see, are human and therefore not free.) What we should be talking about is levels of competition without getting hung up on the non-existent extremes - zero and total competition. Extremes let in dogma and subvert reason.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 7:53 am