BrianX wrote:I would stop short of assuming that government control will do worse, though; free market control ignores situations where its services are necessary but not profitable, and not all government control is necessarily a command economy (which is what free market fundies seem to assume is the case when you talk about government running the show, and which manifestly never ever works).
A command economy is one where the state says who will trade what with whom for how much of what else. It is the literal antonym, the logical negation, of a free market, one where all trades are voluntary. So an economy is a command economy exactly to the degree that the state is controlling it. That's not some fundie dogma, that's just what words mean.
So a state can buy whatever it wants on the market and the market is still free. But whenever the state does any kind of regulation, then it's not free. But what about when public opinion restricts people's choices? Or private thugs? Unless we choose to give special legitimacy to governments, they are only a particularly organized and powerful variety of thug restricting people's choices. Shouldn't all the others count too? If you want to get a bumper sticker advertising NAMBLA but you realize that it would get your car vandalized and cause all sorts of trouble so you don't buy it, haven't you been coerced just as much as if a government did it?
And what about false information? If an advertiser succeeds in stirring your irrational subconscious desires so that you buy something you have no use for at too high a price, is it really your free choice? That doesn't sound like a free market to me.
None of this is to say that every economy is either entirely
free market or command. Just that to the extent it's not one, it's the other.
The free market also has a tendency to set commodity prices unacceptably low for producers
If they're unacceptably low, why would anyone sell for them, given a choice sell to whomever they like for whatever they will agree to (i.e. a free market)? And if nobody will sell for that price, how can the market have set that price, since the market price just is whatever price trades stabilize at? A market price is defined
by its mutual acceptability to both buyers and sellers; it's the price that buyers and sellers collectively agree upon.
The traditional example was family farmers. They wanted to farm because it was their way of life, so they tended to keep doing it until they lost their farms and had to stop. The story I got told in grade school was that there were a few middlemen buying and a lot of farmers selling, so the farmers tended to lose. As the small farmers got pushed into the cities they were replaced by fewer, bigger businesses that could negotiate more effectively. So it could be argued that there was nothing wrong. The businesses that for whatever reason could not compete went under and were replaced by businesses that could compete better.
By the 1960's the US public had gotten nostalgic for small farmers and accepted legislation to help them. One of my friends was doing that. His father had a government job in DC and the wife and children ran the farm during the week, then the father came home on weekends and worked hard. They had their own gas pump in their driveway that had subsidized gasoline, that could only be used for farm business. They ate beef they grew themselves; it had a weird taste because it wasn't corn-fed. The father wrote a letter to President Johnson explaining that taking advantage of the farm subsidies intended for small farmers required so much paperwork that only large farmers could do it. He got investigated and nearly lost his job. Then the IRS told him that unless he could prove he made a profit for the past 5 years they would reclassify his farm as a hobby and charge him full price for everything. Under the old rules he had charged lots of stuff like his commute to DC as a farm expense rather than a job expense, because he got a better deal that way. They suddenly changed the rules. He had to sell and they all moved into a tiny apartment in a high-rise in Crystal City.
Now, whether any particular market is actually free or not is still an open question at this point, and I'll gladly argue that a lot of markets that some people call "free" aren't as free as some people think.
No markets are very free. But maybe that isn't the point. Most markets have some aspect of freedom, and we can look at the value of that.
J Thomas wrote:Until we find enough people who're ready to agree to that, we can just keep those chemicals banned. Fair enough?
Or, we can let everybody decide for themselves whether or not to be exposed to those chemicals (i.e. whether they are in the test group or the control group), and ask nicely, or maybe offer some incentive, for them to record data, or allow us to record data, about the impact of those chemicals on them. Which is how we do things now.
Well, no. How we do it now is: For pharmaceuticals utterly inadequate testing is done by the patent holder who desperately wants a favorable result. If the owner of the drug can provide scientific evidence that the drug is safe and effective for something, they are allowed to sell it to anybody they can get an MD to prescribe it to. Nobody tracks the result. But if after a time somebody finds the drug does have bad results, then there will be a class-action suit on the part of everybody who took it. There may be TV ads telling people who think they took it to sign up and get some of the money. A court of law, run by lawyers with perhaps a jury composed entirely of people who were carefully chosen to not understand the science, will decide what happened and how much money is owed.
For nonpharmaceuticals, even less adequate testing is done, and then the chemical can be put into products that will eventually be sent to the dumps, flushed down the drains, broken into scattered pieces, recycled, etc. In the meantime those products can go anywhere, though there's some effort to keep non-food-grade materials from having direct contact with foods.
Nobody is in any position to make an informed choice. The amount of money available for testing is an absurdly low fraction of the money available to market new chemicals. I think that money does tend to be used well -- they sometimes notice health problems in workers who produce the new chemicals, and they watch chemicals that are closely related to known risks, etc. They use what they have effectively to catch the most toxic chemicals that are easiest to spot.
But you do not know what you have been exposed to. And there is no way for you to find out. So much of the public has been exposed to so much that there is no control group. When the state of California required that manufacturers label products that contained known carcinogens, it turned out to be so many labels that the warnings became a joke. People assumed that California was being unreasonable because there were too many warnings, and a product which didn't have the warning was most likely in violation. Is there something about free markets which makes this situation somehow acceptable?
Environmental standards might be construed as broadly socialist, inasmuch as they deal with the protection of public property, but don't necessarily have to stem from a command economy.
They have to restrict somebody's freedom somehow, or they aren't standards. If everybody just did whatever-the-hell they wanted independent of anybody else, that would be a free market and not socialism at all.
A free market doesn't mean that everybody does whatever they want with no restrictions whatsoever. No free market advocate would abolish laws against vandalism, for instance. It just means that nobody is imposing on their rights to their property. If we consider natural resources to be joint property of everyone, then protection of them can be justified by protecting
property rights -- everybody's mutual rights to those natural resources -- rather than by imposing on them. Pollution is vandalism of public property, in essence.
Now you are putting new restrictions on it. Property rights are fundamentally arbitrary. Different societies give people different rights, according to the needs of the particular society. There isn't much reason to say that one is better than another, except the argument that we are rich and powerful so we can impose our values on them, and that's proof that we are doing something right.
So in addition to a free market you require a government that decides who has what rights, and the government then enforces those rights. Whew!
I want to propose a simpler idea. You have a free market when the participants agree about who has what rights, and they freely choose to trade their rights.
Here are some free markets, by that approach:http://www.sideshowworld.com/13-TGOD/20 ... beach.html
Hundreds of street performers played with fire, chainsaws, broken glass, etc on Venice Beach. How did they sort out who got to perform where on the beach? It was public property, anybody could go wherever they wanted, and the performers depended on tourists doing exactly that. A little old woman sold them spots. Why did she have the right to do that? A lot of performers and "locals" liked it that way. It would be hard to buck the system. Everybody who agreed that "Mom" had the right to assign spaces, were engaging in a free market transaction when they bought a space from her.
Tourists in theory could watch all the performances and not pay anything. They could walk wherever they wanted and see whatever they wanted. But the performers who made money, learned ways to persuade the tourists to pay. They would turn the payment into part of the show. They would good-naturedly embarrass somebody who didn't pay. Etc. But they did not threaten anybody with violence. Nobody was physically or legally coerced. The tourists who chose to pay small amounts of money to see a show they could have seen for free, were engaging in a free market. http://www.orientalist-art.org.uk/rosso.html
At a slave market where the buyers agree that the sellers have the right to own the slaves, and buy that right without coercion -- the market is free. The slaves are not free, but the transaction between buyers and sellers is no different from that between people who buy and sell apples or oranges or whips or manacles. They have an agreement about their rights and they buy and sell those rights.
In all cases, what is bought and sold in a free market is rights. Buyer and seller agree that the seller has those rights and has the right to sell them. The rights themselves are arbitrary and assigned by social consensus or sometimes merely by agreement between the parties involved.
Also, you seem to be missing my point that "free market" and "socialism" are not antonyms. "Free market" and "command economy" are antonyms; "socialism" and "capitalism" are, well not quite antonyms, but at least contrary. (There are other things besides capitalism which are contrary to socialism too). The whole point of that comment was that environmental protection is a socialist goal (public good) well-suited to being modeled as a free-market problem (for a market to be free it must be well-regulated, in the sense that property rights must be protected; if they are not, then one player in the market can impose his will on others and the market ceases to be free; so if some market players are allowed to trod on the property rights of all others -- in natural resources, for instance -- then to that extent, the market has not been kept free, one player is imposing himself on the others).
OK, here you agree that it isn't just the state that can make a market less free, but any participant who disagrees about what rights others have and who enforces his own view of the rights. Or maybe you mean it's an unfree market if he imposes his view of rights when he is objectively wrong and other people's concept of their rights is objectively right. I don't want to go there....
And, I think you are wrong about the free market. What the free market does well is to provide solutions to problems. However, the effectiveness of the market depends on consumers recognizing and wanting to fix the problems. Since consumers don't do that, either through ignorance, miscalculation, short-term thinking or self-centered behavior, we end up with energy crises, debt crises and credit cards.
If nobody considers something a problem, how is it a problem?
What, me worry? What I don't know can't hurt me.
Random guys wrote:"Hey, J Thomas says there are probably 10,000 carcinogens floating around that weren't even invented 50 years ago, and nobody's even measuring how much of them there are."
"Nobody knows, and nobody cares except J Thomas. It's nobody's problem but his."
"Yeah, OK. Oh, also I just got diagnosed with cancer."
"Ouch! Man, you got a problem. You got insurance?"
"Yeah, and they say it's a really good thing I do because the treatment will cost over half a million over the next six months unless I die quicker than that."
"Ouch! Man, your insurance company has got a problem."
"Say, about those carcinogens...."
"Don't worry about them. As long as nobody cares they aren't anybody's problem."
Problems are failures to provide people with what they want (roughly speaking; I have some technical quibbles I'll refrain from making here). If everybody is fine with something, there is by definition no problem.
To my way of thinking, you have defined away an important problem. Your glib assertion shows me that there is something wrong with your thinking, because if there was nothing wrong you would not arrive at this reductio ad absurdum.
While efficiency mandates are also imperfect, they help protect against both producers and consumers acting against common interest. (And by common interest I mean the minimum standard that protects the future population, in particular). For example, a truly free market allows consumer to favor cheap and inefficient over expensive and efficient, even when they are acting against their own and others' interest through ignorance or miscalculation.
I think there is some confusion over the meaning of the word "efficient" here. I am using it in terms of economic efficiency; loosely speaking, "bang for your buck". The most reward for the least loss, and thus, the greatest gain. In this sense "cheap and inefficient" and "expensive and efficient" don't make sense, unless "cheap" and "expensive" are in terms of only cost and not cost/value ratio, while "inefficient" and "efficient" are only in terms of value (some other kind of efficiency?) and not cost/value ratio.
There's a question of time scale also. Something that looks cheap and quite efficient in the short run may have costs that won't show up until later.
Also economies of scale. Say you can make an important product. You can supply it to a nice US paying market for $X/unit. You can supply it to everybody in the world for $X/20 per unit. But a whole lot of the world population cannot afford to buy it even though they would want it. Of course you will produce only as much as you can sell at a decent price. If you increase capacity and as a result your variable cost goes way down, you're only asking for trouble.
In reality you don't know many of the variables you would need to figure out ahead of time what would be better. You don't really know the potential market, you don't really know the costs, etc. But if you did know all those things the answers you computed would depend on subtle details in the way you laid out the questions. Something that looks like the obvious best answer to you will look inefficient to somebody who chose a slightly different problem to solve.
* I wanted a nice, tasteful NSFW picture of a slave market in the old US south. So I google imaged <southern slave market> and found nothing. Just in case I counted the first few NSFW pictures. 67 NSFW arab slave markets. 18 NSFW roman, brazilian, or african slave markets. 9 copies of a Salvador Dali picture of a melting slave market, 13 cosplay or science fiction slave markets, and 30-some BDSM. Not one NSFW US south slave market.
The last time I looked for that, years ago, I found it. It seemed like the ratio of arab to roman portraits was a lot lower, too. There was a time that artists made a lot of oil paintings of arab slave markets because it gave them a legitimate excuse to paint nudes. They mined the classical world just about as much. But now it's 7:2 in favor of arabs. Is that left over from 9/11? And what happened to the old low-quality black-and-white southern pictures from the 1800s? Just to see, I tried <"black slave" NSFW> and got mostly BDSM, in most cases with white women. I'm sure that stuff is available somewhere, but did something happen to Google?
The Law of Fives is true. I see it everywhere I look for it.