Ron Paul claimed on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on September 26th that market discipline is stricter than government discipline. This claim depends upon a number of institutions being set up wherein the true costs of production and consumption are actually being internalized by those doing the producing and consuming rather than being spread between hapless taxpayers as they currently are.
Now, Ron Paul definitely thinks these institutions should replace our current framework as one can see if one watches the extended interview. In it he elaborates upon his position regarding how he believes stronger property rights and a free market would serve environmental ends. The merit of this ecological argument will not be examined in this op-ed; however, this abstraction of the market needs to stop immediately.
We are “the market.” We are all “market forces.” We are the ones Ron Paul is proposing to have more power to discipline wrongdoers via torts, direct action, voting with our dollar and protest. Libertarians do not believe in delegating this authority away from ourselves as that act of concession will lead to regulatory capture and the centralization of power and economy. The market is absolutely not an external process we can afford to just sit back and watch transpire before us.
The “market” itself is conventionally viewed as a concept which symbolizes the aggregation of all acts of production and consumption committed under the institutions of private property and its subsequent division of labor and the price mechanism. When this process is unhindered by unwise barriers (government-enforced or market actor-endorsed) it generally allows for people to clear goods very successfully and to great material gain for all participants. However, the acts of producing and consuming in and of themselves have no moral content. All a free market means is that what is effectively demanded will be efficiently supplied, and if we demand garbage then we will have garbage. This freedom to choose connotes the responsibility to choose well or the world in which we might live may not be very much better than the one we have now.
Simone de Beauvoir writes astutely in The Ethics of Ambiguity, “… the present is not a potential past; it is the moment of choice and action; we can not avoid living it through a project; and there is no project which is purely contemplative since one always projects himself toward something, toward the future; to put oneself ‘outside’ is still a way of living the inescapable fact that one is inside; those French intellectuals who, in the name of history, poetry, or art, sought to rise above the drama of the [age of World War II], were willy-nilly its actors; more of less explicitly, they were playing the occupier’s game. Likewise, the Italian aesthete, occupied in caressing the marbles and bronzes of Florence, is playing a political role in the life of his country by his very inertia. One can not justify all that is by asserting that everything may equally be the object of contemplation, since man never contemplates: he does.”1
This freedom to choose is seen by most people with the same immobilizing terror which the existentialists rhapsodized upon. If we want our freedom to choose poorly, we must be wise enough to choose well. Faced with the responsibility to pay attention to the world around us and actually decide for ourselves what to support with our money and moral approval; with what to cherish and what to rally against for the sake of one’s principles, it is no real surprise that people generally favor delegating their role as a punishing or rewarding market force to someone with political power. “I have to think?! Get this terrible burden of responsibility away from me!”
Freedom is work, and there is no abstracting one’s self out of the market as if it were some independent process outside of ourselves that “will take care of everything.” The market is us. Push us toward a better world by demanding wisely if you can bear it, as anyone who would dare call themselves an adult should be prepared to do. Otherwise, we truly are not ready for the freedom Ron Paul and our American platitudes have prepared us for.
1. Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity (Citadel Press: New York, 1976), 76.