When some people hear the phrase "free market," they're often visited by a fantasy of a kind old man running a candy shop selling cavity-inducing sweets to children after school, freely competing against a rival candy shop a few blocks away. If government doesn't interfere, then these two establishments can openly duke it out, lowering prices and offering better goods to lure in customers, all in the pursuit of the American dream. But the people who imagine such a scenario fail to recognize a few important factors involved in this story. You see, that kind old man selling candy is knee-deep in his second mortgage, not because he's fiscally irresponsible, but because his bank has taken advantage of him. He isn't bringing in $250,000 per year, and neither are the parents of most of his loyal customers, so the Bush tax cuts are hurting his business more than they're helping it. Weakening regulations mean he had to just pull several products from his shelves in order to prevent his youthful consumers from getting sick. And worst of all, a new candy shop is opening soon... a chain store that can buy candy in bulk and sell it cheaper, driving our elderly friend and his former primary rival out of business. None of these new hardships are faced as a result of his own shortcomings, but through the fault of the greed-laden aspirations often affiliated with free market fundamentalism.
Like all systems and civics, capitalism in its purest form is dramatically flawed, because it fails to take into consideration one of the most basic elements of the human condition: greed. That single word is why pure socialism and pure communism also fail ten times out of ten. Without factoring greed into the equations involved in developing an economic system, the end result of the implementation of said system cannot be determined, and as such, that system will undeniably become harmful to those living under it. To put this another way, every economic system evolves over the course of time, and because of greed, this evolution leads to the abuse of the people at the hands of whoever is benefited the most by that economic system. When we find ourselves critiquing rival economic systems, such as the aforementioned communism or socialism, we often denote the negative impacts of greed on those systems, but when we ignore the adverse affects of greed on capitalism, we commit ourselves to a grave injustice against our own philosophies.
The evolution of capitalism charts itself along a fairly predictable course. Individuals own businesses, and compete against other businesses to draw in customers by offering better products and services than their rivals, and at the best price within their tier of product quality. But this is where the fantasy and the greed both begin to course through the veins of capitalism. The fantasy element revolves around the theory that competition will remain fair, and that competition will extend to prices, product or service quality, customer service, and the other numerous facets of business stewardship. The greed element plays the role of serving as the catalyst that shifts capitalism into more sinister waters. The reality of what happens next shouldn't surprise anyone who actually pays attention to the world around them: greed leads the business owners to seek out methods of increasing their own wealth. They pay their employees as little as they can, they cut costly corners in the production of their goods, they minimize their risks by becoming a corporate entity, and they become willing to do whatever it takes to not really compete against their rivals, but to undermine their efforts entirely. Soon, the people insist that the government step in to regulate the free market, as it has become harmful to consumers, to workers, and to our economy. But greed knows no bounds, and drives some to rally the less-initiated into their defense of their own acquisition of wealth. And so we find ourselves defending the free market with the same fervent vocal opposition we might also apply toward the defense of our own families, while ignoring wholly those adverse affects of the unbridled free markets that have led some to question the sanctity of free market idealism.
Some of you aren't going to be able to wrap your heads around this, but it's a fact: capitalism, communism, and socialism are all equally effective economic systems, but greed mitigates their adverse positive effects in different ways. In capitalism, greed drives people to benefit at the expense of others. In communism, the system is too easily manipulated by greed, and thus the infamous communism pyramid exists, with a few wealthy enjoying success at the expense of the masses. In socialism, greed takes the government for a spin, and again, the few take on wealth at the expense of the many. So how do we minimize these inherent casualties drummed up by greed? The answer is simple, on paper anyway: we develop a hybrid economic system that takes the best practical elements of each of the other civics and combines them in such a way that the benefits can be reaped by tax payers and consumers, then by businesses, and then by government, in that precise order. But as I alluded to earlier, no system or civic has ever been truly realized or issued in honest practicality. This hybrid system would probably be no different.
Free market fundamentalism is no better than communist or socialist fundamentalism. None of these systems are more beneficial to the people than the other, nor are any of these systems more or less prone to abuse at the hands of the greedy. The sooner the people realize these simple truths, the sooner we can get to work developing a new economic civic, one that truly benefits all of us by minimizing the impact of greed on the system as a whole through recognizing that greed, as a principal element of the human condition, must be regulated, but not prohibited. Of course, the development of such a system would require that the people take up an entirely new tone, and naivety is, too, a downfall of the human condition.