The “Free Market“.
For many Americans, it’s viewed as the savior of all creation.
The “free market” will end pollution, reverse climate change, create millions of jobs with livable wages, give everyone excellent health care, drive gas prices to $0.45/gallon, turn lead into gold, and solve the mystery of Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance.
It is, without a doubt, America’s #1 idol….and it doesn’t truly exist.
There is no such thing as the “free market”.
In an earlier post on Marx, Monsters, and Markets I explained that “the market” is the name we give to an outside entity so we, as a society, can disavow ourselves of the abuses of the system.
“The free market” doesn’t truly exist as its own entity, because “the free market” is us.
Going one step further, those who idolize the ‘free market’ as the driving force behind the global economy are deluding themselves and engaging in self-worship.
If we look at the economic system (capitalism and the market economy) we’ve created as being created by us, by society, then it becomes no longer possible to blame the ethereal ”market forces” for the economic injustices present in the world today.
We created “the market”, therefore when it is said that “the market dictates”, it really means we, as a society, dictated. We dictate the exploitation of labor in 3rd world countries. We dictate the destruction of the environment in the name of “progress”.
We dictate that our ability to purchase affordable iPads is worth paying Chinese workers $0.31/hour in labor conditions where mass suicide becomes preferable over going to work.
Viewing the market as us, and not as some outside entity, emphasizes our responsibility in all things “the market” brings to global society.
Many conservatives like to dress up the free market idol in Jesus clothing in order to assuage their guilt over the exploitative nature of capitalism without any societal ethics.
We want our stuff quick and cheap… and it really doesn’t matter how we get it, as long as we do get it.
This is not to say that ethical consumerism is the correct answer, either. It’s not. It’s simply a kindler, gentler version of exploitative capitalism made palatable to hipsters.
We consider it our duty to reaffirm that the remuneration of work is not something that can be left to the laws of the marketplace; nor should it be a decision left to the will of the more powerful. It must be determined in accordance with justice and equity; which means that workers must be paid a wage which allows them to live a truly human life and to fulfill their family obligations in a worthy manner. – Pope John XVIII, Mater et Magistra
Yet the workers’ rights cannot be doomed to be the mere result of economic systems aimed at maximum profits. The thing that must shape the whole economy is respect for the workers’ rights within each country and all through the world’s economy. – Pope John Paul II, Laborem Exercens.
This is the same Catholic Church that the followers of Free Market Jesus (FMJ) are eager to get behind when something comes along and interferes with their beloved free market.
For example, in a recent discussion on Facebook over Bain Capital’s moving the Sensata operation to China (and costing American jobs in the process), an old friend of mine piped in with the following:
Please explain what gives you the authority to say to two free individuals that the price they agree on, within a private employment contract to which you are not a party, is wrong.
He goes on to say:
If a person can make a product cheaper in another nation, why are you offended by that?
Christian, how ethical or unethical is it to interfere in the business relationship of two independent free people who were given the freedom to contract by God?
. Why do you believe that a 10 hour day is slave labor in China if (1) it provides a job to a Chinese person which was not there originally, and (2) allows that person to rise out of the grinding poverty (defined as digging through the garbage for food which can objectively be described as poverty) by purchasing food and saving money for other things? What is wrong with that?
In other words, those teenage Chinese girls who will be making your auto parts are thankful we’re paying them less than $10/day, because at least they have a job. He does go on to say, in a later comment, that my view against offshoring..outsourcing…whatever you want to call it borders on xenophobic.
In fact, the argument could and should be made that you are being xenophobic by putting the poor person in China on an uneven playing field with the American worker.
Of course, nevermind the fact that in the drive for greater and greater profits, and in obedience to the ‘free market’, Sensata was depriving his fellow man with the basic human right of earning a living that will support him/her and their family.
It’s also ignorant of the current state of labor relations in China, where young people, mostly girls, work 12 hour days for substandard wages in unsafe and, quite honestly, illegal working conditions.
I haven’t even touched on the environmental impact of third-world labor, where regulations protecting God’s creation are either toothless, ignored, or don’t even exist.
What’s worse is that American companies, such as Apple, who regularly use third-world labor for manufacturing only pay attention to these injustices when they’re brought to their attention. Even then, their responses are meaningless platitudes.
This is the “Free Market” that America worships.