What are the central elements of free market (laissez-faire) capitalism?  What do some critics find objectionable about capitalism? 

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The central element of free market capitalism is that people are free to do what they want with their property and the government does not interfere with the choices they make.  The critics of capitalism tend to think that the fact that capitalism allows for and even promotes inequality is objectionable.  They also worry about other negative effects like its effect on the environment.

A market system is one of the three main types of economic systems in the world.  Each of these types of systems is said to answer three basic economic questions.  These questions are what to produce, how to produce it, and for whom to produce it.  In traditional economies, tradition dictates how these questions will be answered.  In command economy, the government determines the answers.  In a market economy, the questions are answered through choices that consumers make. 

In a market economy, consumers decide what will be made.  Entrepreneurs make things, hoping people will buy them.  If people do buy them, they will continue to be made.  Consumers also determine how things will be made.  If, for example, consumers want their vegetables to be grown organically, this is how vegetables will be grown because consumers will only buy vegetables grown in that way.  Finally, consumers decide who things will be made for.  Consumers decide which goods and services they will spend their money on.

In a pure market economy, the government does not interfere at all in these decisions.  For example, in a pure market economy, the government would not ban the production of marijuana or cocaine.  It would not ban the use of child labor.  Instead, it would allow entrepreneurs to make whatever they want however they want and it would rely on the people to determine which things they wanted to buy.  Obviously, we do not live in a truly laissez-faire market economy.

Critics object to the effects of a pure market economy.  To some degree, they object to the effects it has on things like the environment.  In a pure market economy, the government does not stop companies from polluting.  We see some people pushing for less in the way of environmental regulations today because they believe this will be better for the economy.  Critics of capitalism feel that this puts profits ahead of the environment and ahead of things like people’s health.  More fundamentally, critics object that capitalism encourages inequality.  In a capitalist system, some people will get rich while others might remain poor.  Critics feel that this is not fair and they believe the government should step in to prevent it.

Thus, a pure free market system is marked by people’s freedom to do as they wish with their property and their money.  Critics object to this because it leads to things like environmental degradation and rising inequality among people.

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