The Corner

Utopian Free Marketers

Since Rod seconds Jeff Hart on this, I’d like to ask: Where, exactly, are all of these free-market utopians I keep hearing about? I’m not being cute. I do know there are some. Every now and then I’ll see something on the web from a radical faction of the Randians or some anarcho-libertarian types (not all of them, for the record).

But I think in general this is a strawman. As John O’Sullivan notes, it’s a bad idea to use “utopian” when you mean “unrealistic” or “unlikely.” The vast, vast, majority of hardcore free-market types I know may be unrealitic and their schemes may be unlikely to ever see the light of day, but I don’t think many of them are utopians. As I understand the word, utopianism is an attempt to bring about the end of both politics and economics. Both politics and economics are address how to allocate scarce resources and how to best organize society. In religious and Marxian utopias these issues are settled. Everybody has all the bounty they’ll ever need. Antagonisms of class, race whatever will have been reconciled. This was the aim of Marxism and other utopian ideologies.

I don’t know very many free market absolutists who believe that a complete free market would result in a utopia. They merely argue that wealth would increase, resources would be allocated more justly or, at least rationally, and things would generally be better than under other means of organizing society. But there would still be trade-offs, externalities, conflict, politics etc.

Now, I may agree with Rod or Jeff Hart about the over-emphasis on materialism by some free-marketers and I might be skeptical that social peace could be achieved as easily as they think under their preferred system (or in the process of reaching that system). But none of these objections amount to the charge of utopianism.

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