10 December 2008

Are Markets Naturally Efficient? Are All People Naturally Rational and Good?

There is a ideology that would like to believe that all people are naturally good and rational, and that markets are therefore naturally efficient and free if just left alone to themselves and allowed to function without regulation or management.

This line of argument is often pursued by certain faux conservatives when arguing that the police should be dismissed and the locks removed from the doors, in advance of a period of sustained looting of the common folk by the wealthy elite.

One thing almost all idealists have in common is that their work exists largely on paper, and is rarely to be found in practical implementations over any sustained period.

That is why there are so few farmers and women in this camp of free market idealists because their daily struggle with disorder and decay teaches them that nothing goes the way of order and productive results without plenty of hard work, repeated effort and at least occasional observation.

It is the man in his easy chair reading his books that believes that the dishes clean themselves, the clothes are self-folding and storing, and the children organize their rooms and personal hygiene willingly without 'interference.'

This romantic belief in natural goodness is a great fallacy underlying the Greenspan-Reagan doctrine of trickle down easy money and the prima facie good of boundless deregulation.

It is similar to the belief in the natural goodness of all men and the self-ordering of large societies towards justice and equality without effort. It sounds nice, but in practice it is just ridiculous and almost utterly without support except in the minds of its philosophical adherents. No one who has ever driven in a major metropolitan area can possible believe it.

What people forget is that it takes rules and referees and a great deal of hard work and repeated efforts to create and maintain a fair game and a level playing field for the many who may wish to play.

So too with the notion of a natural tendency to free markets. Its just not true. Markets tend to gravitate to oligopoly, insider dealing, fraud and utter inefficiency. Free market capitalists quickly come to hate competition with their success, and are always seeking to avoid the zero profit outcome through unfair market advantages and the stifling of competition.

Markets can be over-regulated by central planners, and it is always the road to ruin. But they can also be under-regulated and allowed to degenerate into the same awful excesses that governments and peoples fall into at various times in their history, periods of seemingly collective madness, disregard for the individual, and the rise of the will to power.

Government is best that governs least indeed, but with the appropriate level of government to uphold the principles under which people come together to interact in a society and avoid despotism and anarchy. There is a range of good and evil in people, and they join in society for their mutual protection, and the accomplishment of efforts requiring a broad participation.

It is no accident that Jefferson was one of the framers of the Constitution, which although remarkable in its simplicity is ingeniously complex in its design, and fine balances of powers that endure with the commitment and sacrifice for the greater good of each succeeding generation.