Discussing Prime Minister Narendra Modi in The Economic Times, businessman Gurcharan Das worries that “[t]oo many Indians still believe that the market makes ‘the rich richer and the poor poorer.’” Modi, Das argues, has an opportunity to “transform the master narrative around” free market reform, convincing Indians that a free market system helps ordinary Indians, not just the rich and powerful.
Das draws a connection between corruption, widespread in Indian government, and “political pricing,” highlighting the example of Coal India as a state-owned and -operated company “that is the root cause of the nation’s coal troubles.” Das rightly contrasts competition and “increased choice” for working Indians with centralized government control and the problems that arise when politicians and bureaucrats are allowed to pick the winners in the economy at large.
Das’s claim — that the free market is not the enemy of poor and working class Indians — is fundamentally correct. So why do libertarians, the free market’s champions, have such a hard time persuading underprivileged groups and labor? Central to the problem is the vague and confused rhetoric surrounding discussions of economics, imprecisions of language that most of us fall into when using phrases like “the free market” and words like “capitalism.”
Still, Das’s choice for ambassador of freedom is rather odd and inapt. The new Prime Minister’s controversial positions hardly represent the principles of liberty and tolerance. His conservative Hindu nationalist vision has been described as a “right-wing, authoritarian corporate state,” “closer to the model in China” than to a hypothetical libertarian paradise. Modi’s conception of “free market” means more of the same corporate favoritism, including, among other things, transferring land holdings from small farmers to corporate developments, all because “Modi wants to clear the way forward for business.”
When progressives uncritically accept the myth that we already have a free market today — that unbridled freedom of competition is in fact the problem — they play right into the hands of labor’s oppressors and exploiters. Big business wants an economic environment scoured of all competition, carefully sanitized and regulated for the benefit of a favored capitalist class.
By blaming free market competition, which they mistakenly claim already exists, for today’s injustices and inequalities, progressives abet the economic ruling class by preparing the ground for still more government intervention — the source of the problem in the first place. The state has always been a class instrument at its core, a coercive tool used to monopolize resources and capture markets, strangling genuine competition. If indeed the state has ever seemed to help the poor or workers, it has only done so on the margins, after systematically incapacitating them and ruling out possibilities of self-sufficiency.
Market anarchists belong to the political left because we favor social and economic justice and criticize capitalism as a system of privilege, one that essentially licenses theft. But as advocates of individual rights and free markets, we also recognize that such a system of privilege is a far cry from the kind of free society prescribed by legitimate libertarian principles, applied consistently.
When business conservatives talk about lowering taxes and opening the way for free enterprise, we must agree with them, but only in principle. The confusion emerges because the system they defend, corporate capitalism, with its gaping chasm between a few rich and multitudes of hopelessly poor, is simply not the product of a free market — and to contend that it amounts to the claim that today’s multinational corporate giants just won fair and square.
In truth, corporate capitalism as it exists is the bastard progeny of theft and enslavement, heir to all the historical systems of class rule and subjugation that have never existed without the state. Let us at last clear up the confusion: Today’s globalized corporate capitalism is not a free market. Not even close. It has relied upon state power at every turn to feather the nests of the power elite.
For India and the rest of the world, genuine freed markets — freed, that is, from the strangling grip of a small ruling class, are the way forward. But remember, as the beneficiaries of the existing system, businessmen and politicians are of course not its true advocates.