The Free Market; Nothing is Ever Free (A Societal Self-Reflection)

LABOUR VIEWS: May 18, 2016

Written by: Alexander Lambrecht, President – Northern Territories Federation of Labour

 Most people know of the game Monopoly – you know the one where you try to capture all of the open spaces on the board, building up property to increase your tax revenue and inevitably creating a monopoly to win the game. It’s no surprise that the objective of the game isn’t all that different from the objectives of the Free Market – become the wealthiest player through buying, renting and selling of property.

So then why is it called the free market when nothing is actually free – other than the absence of checks and balances such as laws and regulations, including anti-monopoly mechanisms that exist to try and level the board for all players. However, all one has to do is read between the lines to see that despite these mechanisms there always seems to be a bit of grey to allow for the ‘free market’ to function in the interests of those that want governments to back-off.

The theory of a free-market is based on competition where prices are set freely by the forces of supply and demand. But in practice it’s simply a guise for players to increase their own wealth at the cost to others; i.e. a company buys one of its competitors only to dismantle the company by redistributing its assets and laying off workers.

Back in 2008, governments handed over trillions of taxpayer dollars to bail out corporations that were touted as being ‘too big to fail’ – but wait don’t corporations want governments to stay out of the free market? Is that not one of the key principles? So why only when they can’t cover their debts do they expect taxpayers to bail them out? Basically, it’s Reaganomics all over again – “we’ll bail out the corporations and that will then trickle down to consumers”. And in reality did it? Absolutely not. Corporations reaped profits, banks reported some of the highest earnings in history just shortly after the economic crisis.

The free market creates a self-serving system in which profits at any cost is the main objective regardless of the social outcomes – and any seemingly positive outcome is usually one that has been carefully crafted by a PR Firm or Marketing Department to deceive consumers and give a false impression that a corporation is acting socially responsible.

Here in lies the overarching problem with the free markets values, priorities, objectives, and interests:

At this very moment profits continue to increase while unemployment increases, wages decrease, economic disparity gets worse and environmental damage is left for taxpayers to clean up. The free market will stop at nothing to maximize profits: they lobby and seek to gain influence over governments and regulators; cut quality with planned obsolescence which creates unnecessary waste; and exploit desperate people for cheap labour that often comes at a cost to workers’ rights, health and safety – all for profit.