Truly free markets are just that – free, and do not suffer the interventions of the state. The state has always looked on jealously at the innovation and wealth creation made possible by markets, like a burglar peeking through someone’s front window.  The tendency of the state is always to grow larger, a self replicating monolithic bureaucracy that breeds its own army of foot soldiers on a staple diet of dependency and empty promises. This ever expanding monster needs money to sustain its growth. The private sector is easy prey for a state with a big appetite as the state can always rely upon its monopoly on the legal use of force to extract revenue from private individuals and businesses.

The more the state encroaches on the private sector, the more life it sucks out of the economy. Eventually it becomes trapped in a circle of ever diminishing returns. Every malinvested penny spent by the state  is penny that could have been used by the private sector. Sure, not all money spent by the state is wasted. Likewise, not all money spent by the private sector is invested wisely. But the private sector has a key advantage – prices.

Prices are amazing. They convey information between participants in a market. This allows the private sector to efficiently allocate resources based upon people’s real demands. Of course, markets are never perfect and mistakes are often made. But free markets have the ability to assess this misallocation of resources and adjust accordingly because prices will guide the market to correction. For instance, if a rubber duck costs more to make than people are willing to pay for it  then companies producing rubber ducks will lose money. This signals to entrepreneurs that resources are not being used efficiently and should be redirected towards other activities, such as producing yo-yos. The entrepreneurs could also work out more efficient and productive techniques to produce  the ducks. By doing this they may be able to lower the cost of production to a level which allows  the duck to be sold a price acceptable to the consumer and  also create a profit.  This profit tells the entrepreneur to keep doing what he is doing. It rewards the producer for enriching the lives of his customers. It encourages him to do it more. If profits are big it encourages others into the market, thereby increasing supply to satisfy demand and thus normalize profits. This increased level of competition also makes producers work harder to maintain their market share and profit margins (or in other words, their signal that they are using resources efficiently) by coming up with more efficient and productive processes. This competition drives down the cost of the product and society benefits from cheaper goods.

The public sector has no equivalent to prices. For instance, if a entrepreneur in a company hires a new worker to increase productivity and generate more profits he will be able to use the price system as a way of assessing the success of his investment. If he makes more money as a result then the worker keeps his job, maybe even more people get hired. If he loses money then the price system will tell him that he is not utilizing resources efficiently, the likely result being in the worker losing his job.  The same process can not occur in the public sector. The government can not assess demand like the free market can. Society can not accurately inform the government how much it is prepared to pay for bridges, local council art, flower beds or whatever else the state aims to provide. The government tells you how much you pay for it. Think about that. In every private business individuals co-operate to increase their own wealth by trading for things which they value more than the thing they trade the other way. It’s a two way gain. The shop keeper values your 50pence more than he values his one newspaper. You value the newspaper more than the 50pence or else why would you give the 50 pence up for it? A trade is completed and both parties benefit. Both parties will likely thank each other, which neatly symbolizes the mutual benefit of this arrangement. Now try and remember the last time you thanked the government for taking your taxes. Sure, you get things in return. But you don’t necessarily value them more than the money the state took from you by force.  The cost to you in taxes may be clear, but the cost to your liberty is more subtle.

Is that a price worth paying?

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