Wednesday, 12 October 2011

"We Are Standing On The Edge"

It is amazing - to me at least - to be here on the island of Taiwan, one of the four "Asian Tigers", and yet be confronted with the ubiquitous stupidity (see comments) which holds that the free market is the source of the injustices in the world. That I can sit in my little rented apartment here in Tainan, not thirty minutes away from the site of the old Dutch fort at Anping - itself an historical testament to the revolutionary birth of the stock market - and yet be confronted by the growing rejection, the world over, of free exchange...

To see a reporter for the Taipei Times argue against the principle of free exchange, which, though it only ever gained partial traction at most, utterly transformed the material conditions of Taiwanese people's lives in just a few generations... is truly an enormity.

He writes:
"Free markets deliver nothing but inequality and injustice."
That statement is as utterly fatuous as it is ubiquitous. The "free market" of which he speaks does not exist. The market is nothing more than people, and the malignant coercion that some of those people apply to everyone else (via the institutions of the State) is so pervasive and chaotic in its results as to make a nonsense of the idea that people are free.

A free market is one in which coercion is entirely absent: freedom necessarily means freedom from coercion. It is a negative conception, and not to be conflated willy-nilly with the positive conception of freedom as power (for further remarks, see my essay against Ha Joon Chang here). Nowhere in the world today do there exist "free markets", and anybody who says otherwise does so either through intellectual error or insincerity. That is because markets everywhere today are imbued with State coercion, regulations, litigation, punitive taxes, subsidies, inflation, bailouts, systemic corruption and so on under which the people who together comprise the market are pushed and pulled and squeezed in their attempts to freely exchange values. Consider...
  • None of the globally-traded currencies are produced freely and subject to market competition in their function as a medium of exchange for everyday commodities. All of them are State-banking monopoly products which make a mockery of the common misconception that central banks are in some sense "private".
  • None of the major banks in any country you could care to name operate without the permission, influence and backing of the State. Hence the endemic corruption, fat-cat bonuses, rule-breaking, inflation and endless bailouts.
  • Nowhere (to my knowledge) is education for the poor not dominated by the State, rather than provided by the market. Even in Santiago, the example he links to here, our intrepid idiot doesn't seem to realize that the school the students have barricaded themselves inside is a government run school.
And it is not merely the case that all the various acts of State coercion operate discretely, with neatly seperable consequences confined to one aspect of society or another. The institutions of the State systematically interact with one another such that nonlinear consequences emerge through institutional margins of error to render structural instability a systemic feature of society. That is what the problem is - not a "free market" which exists nowhere other than the febrile imaginations of the sub-Marxist, anti-semitic, pignorati thronging the financial districts of New York, Taipei and elsewhere.

He also writes (quoting from elsewhere):
"At the heart of the students’ agenda is the demand that education be recognized as a common right for all, not a “consumer good” to be sold on the open market."
If you have a "right" to education (that is what is known as a "positive right"), how are you going to get it unless some other people provide those goods and services to you, which, when taken together, are commonly thought of as "education"? Given the premise of a political "right" to education, there can be only two possibilities: either some other people have a corresponding obligation to give it to you, and can thus be forced against their will to do so, or you simply don't get an education.

The only other way to acquire "education" - to acquire the time and effort of other people to help you learn - is through voluntary exchange, i.e. the market.

Do you realize what I'm saying to you? Is any of this getting through that thick skull of yours, Mr-I'm-a-journalist-at-the-Taipei-Times-anonymous-coward?

The logic is as irrefutable as your ignorance is invincible: you are arguing for slavery.


What a perverse privilege it is to take part in this fight. I can only imagine how people on this island in the distant future, long after the fall of the PRC and the ROC, might look back on these early moments in the 21st Century aghast: somewhat in horror, but perhaps with a tinge of envy in that it was the likes of I and other utterly powerless people like me, who were the only ones present to guard the fire as the murderous dusk gathered. I can only hope I get lucky.

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