When thinking about the difference between government action and action taken by free people trading voluntarily in markets, we find that many myths abound. Tom G. Palmer has written an important paper that confronts these myths about markets. The eleventh myth — Too Much Reliance on Markets Is As Silly as Too Much Reliance on Socialism: the Best is the Mixed Economy — and Palmer’s refutation is below. The complete series of myths and responses is at Twenty Myths about Markets.
Palmer is editor of the recent book The Morality of Capitalism. He will be in Overland Park and Wichita in May speaking on the moral case for capitalism. For more information and to register for these events see The Morality of Capitalism. An eleven minute podcast of Palmer speaking on this topic is at The Morality of Capitalism.
Myth: Too Much Reliance on Markets Is As Silly as Too Much Reliance on Socialism: the
Best is the Mixed Economy
Myth: Most people understand that it’s unwise to put all your eggs in one basket. Prudent investors diversify their portfolios and it’s just as reasonable to have a diversified “policy portfolio,” as well, meaning a mix of socialism and markets.
Tom G. Palmer: Prudent investors who don’t have inside information do indeed diversify their portfolios against risk. If one stock goes down, another may go up, thus evening out the loss with a gain. Over the long run, a properly diversified portfolio will grow. But policies aren’t like that. Some have been demonstrated time and time gain to fail, while others have been demonstrated to succeed. It would make no sense to have a “diversified investment portfolio” made up of stocks in firms that are known to be failing and stocks in firms that are known to be succeeding; the reason for diversification is that one doesn’t have any special knowledge of which firms are more likely to be profitable or unprofitable.
Studies of decades of economic data carried out annually by the Fraser Institute of Canada and a world wide network of research institutes have shown consistently that greater reliance on market forces leads to higher per capita incomes, faster economic growth, lower unemployment, longer life spans, lower infant mortality, falling rates of child labor, greater access to clean water, health care, and other amenities of modern life, including cleaner environments, and improved governance, such as lower rates of official corruption and more democratic accountability. Free markets generate good results.
Moreover, there is no “well balanced” middle of the road. State interventions into the market typically lead to distortions and even crises, which then are used as excuses for yet more interventions, thus driving policy one direction or another. For example, a “policy portfolio” that included imprudent monetary policy, which increases the supply of money faster than the economy is growing, will lead to rising prices. History has shown repeatedly that politicians tend to respond, not by blaming their own imprudent policies, but by blaming an “overheated economy” or “unpatriotic speculators” and imposing controls on prices. When prices are not allowed to be corrected by supply and demand (in this case, the increased supply of money, which tends to cause the price of money, as expressed in terms of commodities, to fall), the result is shortages of goods and services, as more people seek to buy limited supplies of goods at the below-market price than producers are willing to supply at that price. In addition, the lack of free markets leads people to shift to black markets, under-the-table-bribes of officials, and other departures from the rule of law. The resulting mixture of shortage and corruption then typically induces yet greater tendencies toward authoritarian assertions of power. The effect of creating a “policy portfolio” that includes such proven bad policies is to undermine the economy, to create corruption, and even to undermine constitutional democracy.