Which unfree market is more unfree?

Or is the distinction between free market and unfree economy one of kind rather than degree? For example, between the set of economic norms prevailing in the United States before about 1980 or so, and the set of norms prevailing since that time, which is a more serious violation of free-market principles. The conventional (and of course flawed) understanding of “free market” principles would lead us to believe that the present is a lesser evil than the postwar era when it comes to “economic freedom,” as so many “market based” reforms and structural adjustments have been undertaken since then. I guess what I’m hoping to hear from the free-market anticapitalists is that the opposite is true; that the changes advertised as market-based reforms are actually steps away from the ideal of free markets, and that the economy was actually closer to the free-market ideal back when there were more jobs with bennies and more job security all around; say 1946-1979 (give or take). I don’t expect such a revelation, as free-market anticapitalists (among others) have identified that period as the “managerial age,” characterized not by economic freedom, but by a type of of bureaucratic order or cockroach caucus that somehow manages to buy off a sufficiently large fraction of public opinion with cushy jobs or what have you. By my reckoning, on strictly economic matters, America 1946-1979 was a better place than America 1979-present. I won’t go quite so far as to say that the past was better than the present because we may have (or may not have) made up for the losses in economic security with advancements in civil rights and personal freedoms, although the latter gains have pretty much been completely erased by the post-9/11 hysteria. My own take on it is that the post-war period was economically better, while the post-Reagan period is more market-oriented. What I want to hear the free market anticapitalists say is that the Reagan “revolution” made the economy less market oriented. That would be the only answer compatible with there being anything positive about the market system.

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पृथ्वी की उच्च किराया जिले में उद्यमिता कौशल अभाव
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10 Responses to Which unfree market is more unfree?

  1. Alakazam! Your wish is my command. I do believe that pre-1980 capitalism was more managerialist in the sense that it empowered the rank-and-file “Organization Man” types, but post-1980 cowboy capitalism is not — contrary to official myth — empowering to shareholders. It’s the ideology of CEOs who get $200 million golden parachutes for stripping their companies of assets and downsizing most of the workforce and then leaving someone else to pick up the wreckage.

    I would argue that, by simply removing the secondary or ameliorative interventions and leaving the primary interventions (i.e. privileges) whose side-effects those secondary interventions helped alleviate, cowboy capitalism actually increased the net level of intervention. Most of the forms of statism rolled back were simply secondary limits or restrictions on the primary privileges granted by the state.

    I made the same argument at greater length here: http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/free-market-reforms-and-the-reduction-of-statism/

    • n8chz says:

      OK, the gunman and the bagman. This is something to keep in mind when encountering advocates of the private sector, especially if they are also into narrow definitions.

  2. Rad Geek says:

    . . . back when there were more jobs with bennies and more job security all around; say 1946-1979 (give or take) . . .

    More for whom? Not for women. Or for Black men. Or immigrants.

    That said, I can give you half of what you are asking for: I do not think that the 1980s represented any kind of significant net progress towards freed markets. And the myth of the “Reagan Revolution” is one of the most idiotic myths in the vulgar libertarian / small-government conservative compendium. Of course there are some things that got freer, and other things that got less free (as always happens when policies change), but state control and capitalist domination remained constant. On net, Reagan’s policies, and the Clintonian neoliberalism that followed it, represented a shift in the strategy of state-capitalist control, not a rollback — a shift towards multibillion dollar bail-outs rather than ex ante controls, towards subsidized multinational trade rather than tariff-protected domestic industry, towards privately-owned government-protected monopolies rather than direct nationalization, and all with a heavy dose of tax hikes (*), police statism, mass incarceration and confrontational hyper-militarism. So while I am a lot less fond of 1946-1979 than you seem to be, I hardly see 1980-present as a noticeable improvement over it.

    (* Reagan’s big hike of FICA taxes was one of the biggest tax increases in American history. He is remembered as a tax-cutter because political commentators only give a shit about what happens to millionaires.)

    • n8chz says:

      I’m well aware of the argument that the alleged postwar prosperity was reserved for white males. While the point it makes is obviously true, some of the implications trouble me:

      * Sometimes it is used as a reason to bring back the social norms of the 1950’s, i.e. today’s job market is overcrowded BECAUSE of the influx of women into the workforce.

      * Sometimes the “managerial” character of that time period is framed as something from which we are now somehow liberated, free to pursue our livelihood through “entrepreneurship” instead of the rapidly disappearing economic phenomenon called employment. This is the tactic of people who frame things in terms of “security society” vs. “opportunity society.” I respect that you are (I think) entrepreneurship-positive, but such framing is of course most likely coming from people advocating capitalism rather than markets.

      My own take on the contrast between pre-1980 and post-1980 America have more in common with contemporary movement progressivism; a sense that there has been a decoupling of productivity and income. The logic, and it’s a ruling class logic, seems to be that if the productivity gains are attributable mainly to automation, then the income gains should rightly and justly accrue to capital rather than labor. I see no way out of this trap without some kind of “social dividend.”

      • Rad Geek says:

        Sometimes it is used as a reason to bring back the social norms of the 1950′s, i.e. today’s job market is overcrowded BECAUSE of the influx of women into the workforce.

        That’s an argument some people have made, sure, but it’s certainly not my argument… my whole point is that the alleged “prosperity,” as far as the numerical majority of the population was concerned, was a sham. Trying to reinstate the sham by bullying or forcing more women out of the paid workforce is more or less exactly the opposite of the upshot I take from all this. The problem as I see it is not the number of workers competing for a scarce supply of employment, but rather the system of violent political and economic privilege which has made livelihoods so scarce for working people in the first place. (In part, by making a decent livelihood so dependent on maintaining a relationship with a capitalist employer, rather than on your own labor or co-operation with your fellow workers.) Get rid of the enforced scarcity, and the competition won’t be a problem.

        Sometimes the “managerial” character of that time period is framed as something from which we are now somehow liberated, free to pursue our livelihood through “entrepreneurship” instead of the rapidly disappearing economic phenomenon called employment. This is the tactic of people who frame things in terms of “security society” vs. “opportunity society.”

        OK, but that’s not how I frame it. My whole point above was that the hyperbolic claims made on behalf of the “entrepreneurial,” “non-managerial” features of neoliberal economies are also a sham for everyone but a select few, just as the “prosperity” and “economic security” of post-WWII were shams for everyone but a select few — the shift from the 1950s (say) to the 1990s (say) was not a shift in the character of the underlying system, but just in its advertising slogans and its strategies for perpetuating itself. I’m all for entreprneurial rather than managerial economies (just as I’m all for prosperity rather than poverty), but the whole point is that what we’ve got right now is nothing like that, in spite of common claims to the contrary.

        I respect that you are (I think) entrepreneurship-positive, but such framing is of course most likely coming from people advocating capitalism rather than markets.

        Sure. That’s why I think it’s so essential to expose the differences between neoliberalism and genuinely freed markets. I just don’t think that a romanticized picture of the old Vital Center political economy is very useful for that purpose. Better to contrast it with more radical alternatives, not of a world in which people were (allegedly) better treated by corporations and more secure in their relationships with their bosses, but of a world without bosses, and a world where people’s shot at a decent living don’t depend upon how corporations treat them to begin with.

      • Rad Geek says:

        The logic, and it’s a ruling class logic, seems to be that if the productivity gains are attributable mainly to automation, then the income gains should rightly and justly accrue to capital rather than labor. I see no way out of this trap without some kind of “social dividend.”

        I don’t know whether or not that claim about the source of productivity gains is true. But if it is true, then my view is that the decoupling is the result of the artificial choke-points on production that political privilege has enabled capitalists to monopolize; that without those choke-points they wouldn’t be able to extract the rents they extract, and the way out of the trap is a combination of (1) the elimination of those political privileges and the resulting monopolies; and (2) co-operative worker ownership of the means of production.

      • n8chz says:

        Maybe something has gotten lost in translation, as often happens when talking to market anarchists. I understand entrepreneuship to mean going into business for oneself. I understand that the trend these days is to use it as a catch-all term for everything from innovation to creation of new organizations, including non-profits. I suspect that the strategy served by this expansion of our understanding of entrepreneuship is to get us to associate innovation and creativity with commerce, or perhaps with the “social entrepreneuship” meme I’m already sick of, to hammer home (further) the point that the solutions to the big, hard social problems will be found (if at all) in the private sector, with always ample documentaries about for-profit enterprises beating non-profit philanthropy at its own game.

        The dream of 100% self-employment seems to be one of universal yeomanry of sorts, so perhaps that is why “bourgeoisie” isn’t used as a dirty word so much among the market anarchists, or perhaps it is, and I just haven’t yet encountered that part of the rhetoric. I fear the prospect of “go into business for yourself or be someone’s bitch,” which seems to be what the world is rapidly coming to, so an explanation of why “entrepreneurship emphatically doesn’t mean that” would be comforting.

      • Rad Geek says:

        n8chz:

        to hammer home (further) the point that the solutions to the big, hard social problems will be found (if at all) in the private sector, with always ample documentaries about for-profit enterprises beating non-profit philanthropy at its own game.

        I agree that this is a common (ab)use of the term — that this is exactly what neoliberal apologists are usually talking about when they talk about the economic statist-quo as being “entrepreneurial.” But my point is that the neoliberal rhetoric on this point is deceptive and systematically misleading. They talk themselves blue about “entrepreneurship” but what they mean is really only a very narrow and politically constrained form of opportunity-seeking, which operates against a backdrop of extremely rigid controls on the kinds of discovery and initiative that are allowable, and the permissible forms that they could take. (In particular, limiting what you’re willing to consider to discovery and initiative carried out by highly formalized, commercial-sector, for-profit businesses, at the expense of ignoring, or actively suppressing, the same from informal, grassroots, not-for-profit or otherwise not-stereotypically-commercial social actors — by means of political privileges like IP laws, “development” grants, sweetheart “privatization” contracts to monopolistic corporations, land monopoly, bank bailouts, et cetera.) But then what you have is just another politically-driven, selectively-presented sham. Initiative and discovery have no essential connection with the adoption of monetary gain over other possible motives, or with top-down ownership rather than co-operative ownership.

        I understand entrepreneuship to mean going into business for oneself.

        O.K. The way I use the term is related to that but not limited to that. One of the things that I’ve found genuinely useful in the work of Austrian economists (not just recently — the theme runs throughout their 20th century work) is the discussion of entrepreneurship as a practice of discovery — the decentralized discovery of unmet needs and the creative effort to devise new ways of meeting them (on which see Mises, Kirzner, etc.). “Going into business for oneself” is one example — the only really prominent example that’s available to so long as the hothouse conditions of state capitalism cause cash-obsessed bottom-line businesses to grow out of control, and the rest of the ecosystsem (the rest of us) to wilt from the heat. But there isn’t any essential conceptual link with a capitalistic structure of ownership, a cash payoff or a commercializing attitude. (Austrians will constantly talk about how entrepreneurship is driven by the expectation of “profit.” But “profit” too can be understood in a cash-balance sense or it can be understood in a broader sense, not necessarily connected with commercial motives or with exclusively private benefits.) I view Argentine factory occupations, food co-ops, Food Not Bombs and other mutual aid networks, “Really, Really Free Market” free-swaps, squatting cooperative community farms, Take Back the Land’s Umoja Village and similar efforts as being just as clear an example of entrepreneurial activity as legally licensed, Chamber of Commerce approved for-profit commercial startups are. Indeed, if you take the economic concept of “entrepreneurship” seriously — more seriously than most economists — then these really are clearer examples than the stereotypical business examples, since they happen without bureaucratic approval and without being juiced by state-created captive markets, political “development” grants, etc.

        You might say, “Well, but if the economists created the term, then what matters is how they define the term, not how you wish it were defined, right?” But there is the meaning of the term, and then there is its application. If they claim that the term means any kind of profit-driven decentralized discovery process, where “profit” can mean any net benefit at all, not just cash returns on business — but then they only apply the term to talk about stereotypical business startups — then I think I’m entitled to take their definition seriously, and show how, if used consistently, it applies much more broadly, and hardly applies at all to the wilting hothouse ecosystem we see around us. If they can’t put the word to a good, honest use, I’ll emphatically say that I am happy to expropriate it.

        The dream of 100% self-employment seems to be one of universal yeomanry of sorts, …

        Well, O.K., but that bit about no bosses was not intended to be a demand for “100% self-employment.” If everyone ends up self-employed, I don’t have a problem with that, but work without a boss can be co-operatively owned and organized just as easily as it can be individually owned and organized. I don’t expect a world of universal yeomanry but rather a big messy mix of yeomanry, co-ops, union shops, gift economies, with a lot of people easily shifting from one to the other in different contexts and for different needs. People will be free to settle on whatever works best under the circumstances, and that may be a lot of different things. It certainly is not intended to mean everyone for herself and the devil take the hindmost — as if a market free of bosses just means that everyone should be cut loose to make her own way on her own personal labor and savings — without co-operative enterprises to join or networks of mutual aid or cultures of solidarity to fall back on. Those forms of social co-operation, mutual aid, solidarity, etc. are just as much a part of individual initiative and market processes — as I see them — as are stereotypically businesslike activities.

      • I remember back in the ’90s having a viscerally negative reaction to the word “entrepreneurship” because every time I heard it it was coming out of of the mouth of Newt Gingrich or Jack Kemp or somebody else peddling Toffler second-hand. My basket category for such rhetoric was “pop sociology, globaloney and cybercrap.” My reaction was a lot like Thomas Frank’s — a deep suspicion of anything networked or high-tech, as a Trojan horse for turning the entire society into Singapore (people sleeping stacked up in rental boxes and going to the organ harvesters when they could no longer work). “Entrepreneurship” meant a lifetime of no security, reinventing and selling yourself every two years as you hopped from one job to another. Unlike Frank, I got over it because I was exposed to the real thing.

        It’s an understandable reaction. It’s a lot like someone thinking control of production by the “associated producers” must mean constant NKVD purges and liquidation of the kulaks, because every time you hear someone using such rhetoric it happens to be Stalin.

        The thing is, every ideology out there is coopted by an authoritarian ruling class, but it’s also amenable to being recuperated and used against the masters. That’s the nature of ideology. Ruling classes always construct legitimizing ideologies from the rhetoric and symbolism that they find in the general culture, and that is appealing to the general population. The Federalists sold the Constitution in the state ratifying conventions largely in terms of antifederalist rhetoric. Stalin framed a Party oligarchy in terms of the language and symbolism of the barricades and the red flag. And the corporate ruling class frames its rule in the language of Adam Smith.

        That doesn’t mean that either the workers on the barricades or Adam Smith, in themselves, were wrong.

  3. The increase in productivity IMO results mainly from technological changes that reduce the capital outlays required for highly efficient production, and thereby reduce dependence for employment on giant, capital-intensive organizations that can afford the capital outlays. In that case, it would make it harder for capital to collect the gains from productivity. Generally the rents that can be extracted from providing anything depend on the amount of competition with available alternatives. 250 years ago, the propertied classes enclosed the Commons because they couldn’t tolerate the existing level of competition from alternatives and wanted to suppress them. Now the alternatives are springing up faster than the pigs can enclose them.

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