“An Extreme Free-Market View”

As I write, sunrise is a few short hours away. But, as I was checking the papers for the baseball updates, I came across Jason Salzman’s latest column for the Rocky Mountain News. He writes:

In response to my last column documenting how Denver journalists love and embed the conservative/libertarian Independence Institute, some people asked whom I’d quote instead of institute President Jon Caldara. …

For an extreme free-market view, there’s Ari Armstrong (ariarmstrong.com) [hey, that’s me!] and Brian T. [Schwartz] (wakalix.com), among others.

So, before heading to bed, I wanted to welcome Salzman’s readers who may have wandered this way. Because extreme exhaustion in defense of liberty is no vice! (Or something like that.)

Unlike most politicians and commentators these days, I don’t get ruffled when somebody suggests that I’m “extreme.” If this strikes you as odd, allow me to ask you a few questions.

Do you want to be extremely happy, or just sort of happy? (I’m not talking about a superficial giddiness, but a deep enjoyment of life.)

Would you like to live in an extremely just society, or a society that’s just only some of the time?

Should we strive to be extremely good, extremely virtuous, extremely moral, or just pretty good?

The alternative to extreme happiness, justice, and goodness is some amount of unhappiness, injustice, and destructive vice. (Please don’t confuse “vice” with activities that can be healthy in the right context, such as moderate drinking.)

Imagine yourself in the mid-1800s. The abolitionists called for the abolition — the complete abandonment — of slavery. They took the extreme position that slavery is morally wrong and should be completely outlawed. The moderates, on the other hand, argued that slavery should merely be restricted. Would you have been on the side of the abolitionists or the moderates?

Just as I would have been proud to call myself an abolitionist in the mid-1800s, so I am proud to advocate an “extreme free-market view” today.

What is a free market? An individual market is any space or network in which people can exchange goods or services. E-bay is a market. The market in the broader sense is the sum of such networks and transactions. A free market is one in which people interact voluntarily, free from the initiation of force. For example, if you and I agree to swap an apple for an egg, that’s a free-market transaction. If one party takes something by force, threat of force, or fraud, then the market is no longer free. Force has replaced voluntary association. Buying groceries is an example of a free-market trade. Robbing a grocery store is an example of force.

The proper and necessary function of government is to protect each individual’s right to control his or her own life, resources, and property, as consistent with the equal protection of the rights of others. You have the right to control your property and trade the fruits of your labor with others, so long as you don’t violate the property rights of others in the process.

An extremely free market is one in which people’s rights are consistently protected. The alternative is a society in which some people exert force against others.

Obviously I’ve given only the briefest overview of the basic theory. But that should give you a basic sense of where I’m coming from.

Here are some examples, again in brief, of how my “extreme free-market view” plays out with respect to particular issues. People have the right to control their own resources, so politicians should not force them to fund the health care of others. Voluntary charity is fine, but forced wealth transfers are not. People have the right to control their own property, so they should be left free to set smoking policy there. Company owners have the right to run their businesses and offer goods and services to willing customers, so businesses should not have to seek permission from the FTC or other bureaucracy to merge or otherwise operate. People own their homes, so local governments should not be able to take those homes away by force.

I realize that many of you have been trained since you could walk to compromise for the sake of compromise, reject any position that dares invoke a principle (except the “principle” that “there are not principles”), and always seek the centrist position, regardless of who defines the boundaries.

“Compromise.” Even if you’re compromising the good for the sake of the bad, the just for the sake of injustice?

“Be reasonable.” But how can you reason apart from principles?

“Why go to extremes?” Do you wish to be moderate in pursuit of justice? Sanction the violation of only some rights?

A consistently or “extremely” free market means that individuals’ rights are consistently protected, that people are free to control their own resources and associate voluntarily. The alternative is that some people control others by force.

I’ve written quite a lot more about political issues for the Colorado Freedom Report. For more about compromise, please see Ayn Rand’s essay, “Doesn’t Life Require Compromise?” in The Virtue of Selfishness. See also Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which sees its fiftieth anniversary this month.