Society is Too Complex for a Free Market

The following article was inspired by the post of my good friend A. Robert Spitzer 


Our society is too complex to have people living on their own in the woods, cooking over campfires and eating squirrels (Loretta Helwig still shoots and cooks squirrel but I am not crazy about it). Modern society has evolved. I do not agree with the extent of current governmental control. But the pure idealistic free market system has problems. For example, free information is no longer available to the average citizen, who is no longer capable of making informed decisions in our complex society. Free markets result in psychopaths controlling corporations and huge amounts of power and abusing individuals. Corporate structures have become governments of their own. As such, they need to be restricted and controlled just as much as any other government!!”

I admit I have taken a while to respond partially from the demands of the Christmas Season, and family obligations. But mainly I hesitated, because I wanted to be more positive in my article than my initial reaction. I wanted to reply with a simple “Those are the arguments I often hear from those who justify government. That the human conditions requires an external governance to establish order in a naturally disorderly and immoral world.” I wanted to reply, “Who or what can we trust to provide that governance? Certainly not humans, who are naturally selfish and interested in only their own lives. Certainly not those welding such power for their own gain. And certainly not those that believe that life owes them something other than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (or wealth as it was originally written).” But these replies, which have been used over and over, do not seem to impress anyone who accepts the original premise.

All I can do is speak from my experience. Bob has spoken of gradualism that seems to be degrading our government and has found its way into our society. Yes, I have seen the reduction of freedoms during my lifetime. And I have seen the rise of an underclass that has successfully, with their vote, to demand more from society than they contribute. And yes, well meaning people have agreed with them and have been “enablers” rather than take the time to resist the trend. In Birmingham, in which I called home for the first 23 years of my life, I felt free to travel anywhere in the city on my bicycle, and did. I felt safe enough to shop for groceries in a racially mixed grocery store where I was a minority. One of my early jobs as a TV repairman, I serviced sets in homes that were not of my race. My relations with my customers were always cordial, being thanked for returning their sets, of which they were extremely proud because it was often the most valuable thing they possessed. I returned to Birmingham for the 100th anniversary of my home church and found very restrictive fences around the hotel where we stayed. Everywhere I went I found evidence of a dangerous city. That coupled with warnings not to venture out at night.

I proudly claim to be a libertarian. I count myself lucky to be educated by the likes of Adam Smith, John Locke, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Freidman, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the like. Note that I do not use the capital “L” in the word because I am not a member of the Libertarian Party. If you wish to read some of my views on this subject, go to http://www.politico-cat.com/node/32. Included there are the principals of libertarianism. These rules have nothing to do with returning our society to requiring people to live on their own in the woods any more than saying that Judaism requires Israel to use the same weapons used in the battle of Jericho.

But, over my lifetime, it is useful to list positive accomplishments. Even though, in the past 10 years my family faced lymphoma and ovarian cancer, the positive is that I can report that we, with the help of advances made in treating cancer by the medical profession, and prayers from caring friends, we are alive and although suffering from the ravages of age, are still alive. We have enjoyed writing, and even though we don't have any best sellers, we have enjoyed the experience.

Probably the most frustrating effort in my life is that of convincing people that the “National Retail Tax System” now called the “FairTax” (http://www.fairtax.org) has not gained a foothold and been passed into law. But, on the positive side, during the 2008 election cycle one presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, suggested that if he was elected president, he would try to get it implemented. This year 2015, Mike is still proposing the “FairTax, and another candidate, Dr. Ben Carson, suggested an interest in it. Replacing the 73,954 page (as of 2014) with a 133 page code which distributes the cost of government fairly seems to be a worthy goal. 25-30 years ago, I can remember when I was a group of less than 50 people advocating this system.

I remember in Colorado Springs in the early 1960s reading the Gazette Telegraph editorial page extolling the virtues of libertarian thought and the Freeman” from the Foundation for Economic Education extolling the virtues of a free market. Can a country exist that subscribes to libertarian principles? We are about to find out, the tiny country of Liberland has received about 200,000 applications for membership. The Foundation for Economic Education is growing and offers programs to teach all their view of economics. The report found at http://fee.org/resources/results-from-fee/ gives a positive report of their progress.

A highlight of this year, was listening to various College Choirs presenting their Christmas programs. My wife complains about me being critical of musical organizations and that I would probably find something to criticize a choir of angels if I was at a performance. Either my hearing is getting worse, or the programs we watched were better than they have been in years past. I believe the latter. One aspect of musical performances is the ensemble of the singers. To the uninitiated, that is when each musician or performer is doing his part exactly when it is supposed to happen.

Some years ago, Robert Shaw conducted the Mormon Tabernacle choir. While there he emphasized the importance of ensemble. Since that time, the choir has improved yearly and this year their performance was the best I can remember. Why do I mention this in an article about positive progress? The answer is that the choir is made up of 360 individuals freely cooperating to bring about an objective. The presentations of the colleges exhibit the same cooperation. I maintain that this is the fundamental character of the human. Certainly there are exceptions, and often they get most of the attention.

We have benefited from a number of developments during our stay on earth. I remember the first time I watched TV on my sister's TV set. My mother, dad, and I walked about 5 blocks to her house for the first event.

The schools I attended, the shops where we shopped, the movies houses where we went for entertainment (rarely), and our home did not have air conditioning. The first experience of air conditioning I had was attending the First Methodist Church in Birmingham where they had ice trucks deliver about a ton of ice to the basement and circulated the air from the sanctuary over the ice to cool it during hot summer Sundays. That guaranteed short sermons on particularly hot days, because the ice melted in about an hour. Our first trip to the west coast where I had been assigned a job was in a car that did not have air-conditioning. We bought an evaporative cooler that attached to a window and filled it with ice to get across the hottest part of the trip.

Medical advances during our lifetime, I can't list because I don't remember them all. I do remember that polio (which I had had) and a number of childhood diseases have been all but eliminated. Pneumonia, once a sentence of death, is now treated as out-patient care with antibiotics.

Airplanes: the advance in air travel is even obvious today. But the first commercial flight we made was on a Constellation, an airplane powered by four engines driving propellers. Now, airplanes, even those driven by jet engines, are available for purchase to the public.

And space exploration. I was privileged to be working at Cape Canaveral during the development of some of the early missiles and systems that eventually powered man into space and later to the moon. Sure, the government funded these advances. But individuals, and groups of individuals brought about the successes. I was at Brooks AFB where early astronauts were tested to both establish limits of what they could withstand and to assure they could withstand limits that were set.

And computers: The first computer system I worked with had 32,000 48 bit words of memory, equivalent to about 192,000 bytes in today's world. That computer with its auxiliary memory, magnetic tapes, is pictured below. I am currently working with a computer that has more than 1,000,000,000 bytes of memory and 30,000,000,000 bytes of auxiliary memory. All that fit in a box that is smaller than 3” by 4” (the electronics is less than 2” x 2” and connectors to the outside world taking the remainder of the space)

Then there are cell phones and smart phones. The first cell phones we owned weighed about 5 pounds and had a shoulder strap to assist carrying them about.

The point of the above list is that these advances have been made by individuals and groups of individuals committed to improving the lives of their fellow man. Some would point out that some of these advances were made and funded by the government. Maybe, but individuals, groups of individuals, and more often than not investors, who by today's standards are nothing but greedy Grinchs just looking for a profit.

Free markets result in psychopaths controlling corporations and huge amounts of power and abusing individuals.?? Really? The ultimate control in a free market is the purchaser. If a product is too expensive or gets a bad reputation, it will not be purchased. Granted, psychopaths occasionally occupy positions of authority in a corporation and occasionally cause temporary profits and gouging of customers. This does not last. Either the stockholders or managers remove the psychopath or the corporation ceases to exist. The corporation is not the only source of information about their product. Customers talk. Private corporations like “Consumer Reports” talk. And free news media talk. Often the psychopath gains his power from the government. Through a perverted tax system, like the one we have today, the government can essentially mandate the success or failure of a corporation regardless of the corporation's integrity. For example, in the last ten years the government decided that some financial institutions were “too big to fail” and used taxpayer money to bail them out. Granted the failure of the institutions can be traced to government's “encouragement” to make loans to high risk applicants. Another example is government's bailing out large corporations that were mismanaged because they represented a major industry. Not only did they bail out the corporation with tax-payer money, they effected the theft of stockholders shares and transferred them to another group who had not risked their wealth. Yes, a corporation with low integrity can exist in the free market. However, in a truly free market they cannot continue unless they change their practice.

When I entered the computer industry, one company sought and almost attained a monopoly on computers for commercial use. One technique was to sell a system that was not adequate for the job. After the installation was in, they would sell upgrades until the requirements were met. Through questionable techniques, their sales force was able to convince managers that their company was the only company that could do the job. A popular reply of their customer's managers to competing salesmen was “No manager has ever been fired for selecting your product.” They also sought to dominate the PC market with a dynamic operating system that featured a CRT/Keyboard interface copied from an existing product already offered by another company. Where is that company now? One that had upwards of 90% of the market. It is still there but most of us consider it an also-ran. No government action brought that company down. Market forces and ingenuity of others did.

Advocates point to anti-trust laws as protecting us from monopolies. Unfortunately they do not protect us from government authorized monopolies. How many choices do you have when purchasing utilities? Postal Service (all though that is contained in the Constitution of the United States)? And soon to be if one party has its way, medical insurance? One company has a virtual monopoly on large medical imaging systems. They also either don't make a profit or are cleverly excluded by the tax code from paying taxes because they are paying none. The government did use the law to break up perceived railroad monopolies. They also instituted rules that restricted railroads from operating freely to make a profit. One such rule – railroads were charging a lower per mile rate for long shipments. Government, deciding that wasn't “fair” required railroads to charge standard per mile rates. Government decided to break up the ATT monopoly, even though ATT kept prices low enough to keep out competition (acceptable in the free market).

Maybe I have lived in a charmed life, because I have never worked in a corporation that did not have a high degree of integrity in its management. Only once, did I leave a company where the CEO was managing a company in a way that was inconsistent with my beliefs in integrity.

Even though I have never worked for a government, I have worked in close association with government employees and government management. Most of them were good and moral people and sincere in execution their jobs (even IRS employees). Often I found that the politics of the job outweighed their good intents. None of them, or management of companies where I was employed, exhibited the lack of integrity that has been brought to light in the current administration. Then it is with no reluctance that I prefer a free market management of the solution to problems to governments. One only need look at the management of the VA (note: I am sure the medical professionals in those hospitals are doing the best they can), the Post Office, the Affordable Care Act, and the government owned brothel in Nevada as compared to Apple, Amazon, Ford Motor, and the like to realize that trust in the government to manage the market is misplaced. I am convinced that the free market can do the job currently assigned to the government more efficiently. Yes, even the FDA and Institute of Health. Even the certification of medical profession can be done through private institutions. Allowing unqualified medical professionals to practice will eventually disappear as the gene pool is cleaned up by the elimination of individuals willing to use their service.

I agree that our society is more complex now that when I was a youth. But only technically. To keep the accouterments of our present life requires more skill and more diverse people. However, I do not agree that personal relations are more complex. As in engineering, we need to tackle the most serious problem first and move to those incidental to the problem. The first step is to accept an underlying moral code well defined in the interpersonal part of the Ten Commandments (see http://www.politico-cat.com/node/85 for a discussion currently underway of Morality). Then move on to the libertarian principals http://www.politico-cat.com/node/32. From there, we can move existing institutions into and subject to free market pressures. And no, we can't do it quickly. And though it appears to be impossible in today's world, that is no reason to dismiss it as an objective.

I believe it is incumbent on concerned citizens to learn about competing systems. It is necessary to learn about free market solutions as well as socialistic or government solutions. The U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights and their formation documents form a giant step toward individual freedom. And yes, there were mistakes in those documents that needed correcting. For a discussion of some of these mistakes, see http://www.politico-cat.com/node/68. Just returning to the principles of our founders would be a large step toward establishing a more free society.