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Does the free market protect against tyranny?

How do you reconcile your belief in unregulated free-market capitalism as a divine protection against tyranny, with the fact that so many of the most profitable commodities in a capitalist market are the ones that appeal to our very basest and most disordered desires (drugs, p&rn, etc.)?

I wanted to comment on a misperception that I saw in this question. I don't believe in the free market as a divine protection against tyranny. It's more of a definition thing: tyranny is what you get when somebody takes away freedom. So the free market is what you get when there is no tyranny, at the moment. Freedom and tyranny are opposites.

I do believe the free market is divinely inspired, because God is the author of private property (Exodus 20). And I do believe that this free market has spectacular benefits in a lot of areas, chiefly that it satisfies the greatest value of human wants (including needs) possible in a world of scarcity. It is the only way to achieve the benefits of division of labor.

And it is the only moral way. Not having a free market means people exercising ownership rights over things that are not theirs, either by taking what is not theirs, or by telling them what they can and cannot do with it. It is to the Lord's glory that the only moral way to arrange human affairs is also the economically best way. It is to man's shame that we have so little trust in the Lord that we entertain the idea that other ways might actually outperform this one, and might therefore be worth trying. (If we have enough faith in the Lord, we will choose His way even when it looks to us like it doesn't work best, trusting that we are not seeing what He sees (I Corinthians 2)).

I have referred to a few of our institutions as protections against tyranny, but they are only partial protections. For example, democracy protects against tyranny by preventing the governing authority from taking some, but not all, actions which are offensive to the populace. Of course, democracy still allows plenty of tyranny. The people can vote to outlaw Jews, for example, or to educate each other's children. Separation of powers also helps to function as a check on tyranny, because an action is required to pass multiple checkpoints before it is put in force. However, one of the main reasons we have these imperfect safeguards is that rulers of centuries past learned that if they did not give the people some of what they were asking, the people would revolt. The rulers found they could take away much liberty, then give some back and claim that they were the source and guarantee of the rights and liberty, rather than its main oppressors. They found that they could take away much of the wealth of the people, then use it to provide some services and goods, claiming that the market would never provide these things and therefore presenting themselves as the "benefactors" of the people (Luke 22:25). As long as they gave the people enough to keep them happy, the vast majority of people would never entertain the idea that they might be better off without the rulers, and revolt would be staved off.

Since the free market makes it possible to provide for all kinds of services, it does make it possible to provide for protection against tyranny, like any other service. Just as you can today hire a security guard, even though the state tries to provide some security for you, under a truly, 100% free market, you could contract with a service to provide your security. These services would look a little bit like our governments, in that they are organizations formed to secure our rights (this is what Thomas Jefferson said was the purpose of government, in the Declaration of Independence). But unlike our governments, they would be prohibited from just assuming control over everybody in a region, potentially taking away their rights, by virtue of the fact that competing services would exist, and those services would be out securing the rights of their "citizens" against any other group that started encroaching. One of the real problems of government is that rather than allowing this need to be met on the free market, where all needs are best met (most economically), we've instead socialized this process. We know socialism is a horrible way to provide food. It's also a horrible way to provide security. Or anything else.

Freedom also helps perpetuate itself because a taste of freedom makes people discontent with tyranny. This is one reason the United States revolted against Great Britain: a century of "salutary neglect" got the colonists used to enjoying the benefits of their liberty, and they got upset when moves were made to take it away.

But the important thing is not that the free market provides some protection against tyranny. It's that if you don't have a free market, you have tyranny.

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