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Free market from the point of view of ObjectivismDo you think a free market system in...

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justaguide | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 15, 2011 at 4:12 PM via web

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Free market from the point of view of Objectivism

Do you think a free market system in the true sense captures the spirit of Objectivism. Look at it in this way, the lead character in the Anthem makes a discovery of the bulb but instead of the idea being adopted by the Council, he is actually prosecuted for it.

Doesn't that happen in the free market system also; new and innovative ideas that have the potential of solving many of the existing problems are not allowed to develop as the majority of others fail to see it as profitable and viable.

It is obvious that the ideal case of unlimited buyers and unlimited sellers can never be acheived. Does it mean that the free market in reality can never be expected to do what it is supposed to, because it can never be free in the true sense. What could be a likely solution?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted September 15, 2011 at 4:42 PM (Answer #2)

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Oooo ... Interesting. I've pondered this myself and it's inverse: we are not free consumers because we only have market access to what is forced upon us by whatever crazy, sound, mercenary, experimental, practical etc notions the biggest corporations can foist upon us (good or bad ones). For instance (one of my hot spots upcoming ...), where are the options in women's clothing in America? Ponder this example, the men's side of major (affordable) department stores in America during winter feature warm shirts, sweaters, socks etc. The women's side, cutesy little socks, off the shoulder sweaters, and gauzy shirts. Another example, indispensable electronics are made of such cheap plastics materials that they gas-off relentlessly and overwhelm by heavily contaminating indoor air quality.

I'm not qualified in economics to even begin to address or discuss your question properly but my lay person's response to this, "Does it mean that the free market in reality can never be expected to do what it is supposed to, because it can never be free in the true sense," is a resounding, "Yes! This is what it means." I think the past situation with the tobacco industry manipulating product for their advantage regardless of consumers is a ... a template, a metaphor, a paradigm ... for what most American industry and business does--it was not an exception to the rule.

Although, there is a burgeoning counter-industry developing, partly due to the Internet and e-commerce, that is creating at least a bit of true market freedom, from the consumer's perspective at least. For instance, I eschew detergents for clothes, cleansers, and dishes--won't get near them. I used to have be very creative in means to avoid them and still get the jobs done, but now I can buy soap nuts online imported from Nepal that perform these jobs with safety to me and mine. This is just one example of the counter-industry that is developing. Another would be the counter-industry developments in the clothing industry that feature safe, sustainable and organic fibers. Well, that was fun.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 15, 2011 at 8:36 PM (Answer #3)

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What an interesting topic! It reminds me of reading Guns, Germs and Steel and the way that new technologies are adopted or rejected depending on society and if there is a need for those technologies or not. I think as well that as #2 points out, the internet and globalisation are both placing more power in the hands of the peopl (in some ways) and give us much more choice and freedom in terms of what we spend our money on and access to different kinds of products. However, I like your idea that the free market may not actually be as "free" as we think it is.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 15, 2011 at 11:35 PM (Answer #4)

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You make an interesting point, but I do not really agree with the idea that the free market reduces freedom by preventing innovative ideas from developing and becoming prevalent.

In a free market, every idea at least has a chance to develop.  It is, in a sense, a vote of the people that decides whether that product will develop.  There are many avenues to getting a product before the people and many products that have been developed first by small companies and then "made it big."

This system may not be (certainly is not) perfect because not all ideas will be able to really be tested.  Maybe some idea would be great but no one thinks so at first.  Maybe an idea would be great but it costs too much to try out.  These are problems.  But any other system would be a much greater threat to liberty.  Imagine a system in which the government took certain innovations and ordered us to use them.  That would not be a very free system.  It would limit the freedom of those with alternative ideas and it would do so much more effectively than the current free market system does.

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 25, 2011 at 6:54 AM (Answer #5)

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Responding to #4: the American government is currently taking steps to force certain products and services on its people. I will mention just one for discussion: light bulbs.

When compact fluorescents first came out, I was excited: a light bulb that was as bright, used less electricity, and produced almost no heat! Too bad they were so expensive. In time, demand increased and the price went down. I replaced all my incandescents with CFLsbecause I like saving money and I don't have the vision and flicker problems others have with CFLs. Now, however, we are being told that we will not have the choice to use incandescents at all. They will be banned and possibly even become illegal. That is not a choice, it is an ultimatum. By Objectivist standards (going back to the first post) such an action by government is certainly immoral and goes against everything the free market stands for. Instead of demonizing incandescents, make the public aware of the benefits CFLs (and the new LEDs) have over them, and then let people make their own choice. If I want to spend extra money in electricity because I like incandescent light better, it's my choice, not theirs. The inferior product will fall by the wayside because of consumer action, not political action.

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 26, 2011 at 3:24 AM (Answer #6)

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I would agree, with stipulation. New and innovative ideas will not develop IF they threaten the profits of others. For example, the automobile companies and gasoline companies buying patents to green technologies and then suppressing them. New ideas often get stamped out. An idea needs a powerful benefactor.

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 26, 2011 at 4:48 AM (Answer #7)

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#6: from the standpoint of Objectivism (original post) any corrupt method of business is destined to fail. When business competes honestly, the best ideas win the market and the worse ideas lose. Today, business is crippled by government, and so moves its production overseas. Tomorrow, government will tell us which products we are allowed to buy, and if we refuse, government  bails out thefailed business (and in at least one case, levies a fine on the innocent consumer who never wanted the product). Objectivism would dictate that business be allowed to fail so that better business can rise in its place.

See also:

http://www.atlassociety.org/guide_business_ethics

(Note: I am not an Objectivist, but I have read the books and have a reasonable understanding of the philosophy.)

 

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justaguide | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 26, 2011 at 4:56 AM (Answer #8)

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You all have raised valid points. But one thing that I feel the free market does not discount is how some decisions made here affect others and in many cases the participants of the free market themselves. Of course, I do not claim that we all need to be the caretakers of others nor do I say that decisions made in any other system would certainly be able to tackle the problems that arise here.

As an example, let's take the case of pollution, no one could deny the fact that the ecological footprint of consumers in a free market is the highest. Americans pollute the most in the World. The greenhouse gases released by them are threatening the existence of thousands of island nations around the would and destroying their primary source of income which is tourism. The increase in the number of destructive hurricanes and droughts in the US is directly affecting consumers and making things difficult for future generations of Americans themselves. (O.K. I guess I'm wrong here; its just progress at play, and no government is ever going to deny it's citizens the freedom to do things they want to because it harms people in other nations)

#5 feels that the ban on the usage of incandescent lamps should not be imposed by the government but it should be left to the free market to get rid of them. Would that be the most appropriate thing to do? When the consumption of products is manipulated merely to increase profits in the next quarter, is it possible to allow this system to take decisions that actually benefit us over the long term.

How can one ensure freedom and also remind people that with freedom come responsibility. And it is essential to act in a way that can be justified to allow the free market system to truly benefit its participants over a long term, i.e. before people realize that it is too late to make changes.

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