The free market is founded on the principle that man is indeed capable of governing himself. During the course of the American Revolution, many individuals from several countries sacrificed their time, their fortunes, and even their lives for the revolutionary idea that man was destined to be free. In the great history of the world, we have witnessed many great civilizations come and go, and time can all but wash away entirely the ardor once held by a people for certain ideals. Two hundred and forty years have passed since our forefathers made the sacrifice for our independence, and in that time an argument has crept into our society claiming that the free market system which they fought for is corrupt. Many are wondering if unequally divided prosperity should be fought for, or fought against. In this essay, I will argue that the free market system cannot be blamed for corroding moral character. The freedom of choice, which this system bestows upon its participants merely gives us the opportunity to decide for ourselves how we will be remembered.
Many argue that the free market system is founded upon corruption and greed. Its very premise is that men will do everything they can to promote their own self-interest. Some will look at this premise, and quickly assume that this sort of system is perverting individuals to think only of themselves. While this theory is prevalent in today’s society, it is deeply flawed. The magnificence behind the free market system is that it gives every participant to a certain extent, the freedom to act how he so chooses. In a sense, the free market system is the only system in the world, which the participants are given the ability to even have moral character. A controlled economy (the antithesis of a free market economy) believes that a society will have sound moral character if it makes it impossible for its participants to make an incorrect or unethical choice. This economic system has not and cannot succeed in creating a society of superior moral character, because it strips from its participants their very capacity of having moral character in the first place. You cannot say that a cow has good moral character or bad moral character, because it does not have the capacity to make rational decisions. A cow cannot be good or bad, it can only be a cow. A free man however, is the one of the only creatures on earth who possesses the capacity to act out of principle, rather than instinct. If we rob a man from his right to choose for himself, and act on principle, he quickly regresses into a creature similar to the cow. A man without the capacity of choice and reason does not have superior moral character to a man who does have the capacity to freely choose, and behaves poorly. To put it simply, only in the free market system does the true meaning of moral character even exist!
It is my belief that power is an entity similar to matter, in the context that it cannot be created nor destroyed. The only influence we can have over power is the manner in which it is distributed and organized. If we desire to give more power to the government, the natural consequence would be a reduction in the amount of power which the people possess. If we desire that more power be given to the people, the government must forfeit a portion of the power which it possesses. The perfect ratio of power distribution between the government and the people has been a subject debated since the world began.
Men such as Adam Smith, John Locke, and the Founding Fathers of America believed that the best ratio would be an equal amount of power bestowed on both parties. The objective was to create a government with enough power to preserve order and security, but not strong enough to abuse the people. The logic behind this theory is that if power is distributed equally among all people and the government, no one faction can dominate another. If the power is un-proportionally distributed, the group yielding the majority of the power can subjugate the masses to the practice of unrighteous dominion.
A natural right bestowed upon every man in this form of society is the freedom to make economic decisions in his own self-interest. In a system that gives individuals so much freedom, it is inherently obvious that there will be a number who choose to behave immorally. No serious defender of the free market system would ever suggest that it is perfect. In fact it was never intended to be perfect! The free market system is in fact one of the only systems, which assumes that no man should be trusted with much power. Therefore, the genius of this system lies in the fact that the equally distributed amounts of power among all people act as a safeguard against the corrupt, because it minimalizes the amount of harm they can bring to the overall population. For example, A sociopath without a conscience has a harder time imposing his will on others in a free market system because everyone around him have been given the same amount of power. However, in other market systems such as a controlled market, the power is divided unequally placing men on unequal grounds. In a controlled market economy, the sociopath has an opportunity to snake his way into the “ruling class” and subjugate the powerless masses in whichever way he desired.
The last portion of my essay will be dedicated to comparing and contrasting data from free market and controlled market economies to put to rest once and for all the idea that the free market corrodes moral character. When we look at the evidence, we see that the opposite position is in fact true. In the early 20th century, the idea of communism and the collectivist system of economics captivated the imagination of many western thinkers. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt even sent a shipload of western economists and scholars over to Russia to learn about this system of Government first hand from Joseph Stalin. As mentioned earlier, in a society which delegates the majority of its power to one ruling class over the people, they are susceptible to the dangers of being abused by the vain ambitions of the rulers. Stalin, a known megalomaniac, was given total control of the economic decisions of 270 million people.
In 1928, Stalin introduced his agricultural collectivization program, which forced farmers to give up their land, equipment, and livestock to the state. Stalin decided that the main priority of these farms would be to produce grain to sell abroad, and use the money to finance his industrialization plans. The distant second priority of these collective farms was to feed his own people (Babij, 2009). Resistance to the collective farms was met with brutal force. Stalin initiated a strategy of class warfare against those who refused to give up their land. Many of these farmers were taken from their homes and shipped off to Siberia where they would soon die. In 1932, Stalin raised the government-implemented quotas on production and reduced the amount of grain to be given to the people in an attempt to generate additional revenue. A decree was implemented that called for the immediate execution of anyone, including children found taking as little as a few stocks of wheat home from the farm. Tens of thousands were dying from starvation daily and many were forced into cannibalism. By the end of this practice, nearly 4 million Russians died from starvation. This event is now known in Russia as the Holodomor, which translated means “Murder by Starvation”. On November 28, 2006, a ceremony was dedicated to the victims of the Holodomor. In the ceremony, 24,000 red candles were lit, representing the number of people who lost their lives each day during this event. It is a somber reminder to all of us that when the wicked rule, the people mourn.
Let us now contrast the track record of a controlled market economy such as the Soviet Union, to the moral character of the free market system implemented by the United States. In 2011, the Charity Aid Foundation performed a study, which set out to determine which were the most generous countries in the world (Goldberg, 2011). The criteria measured in the study were volunteering, helping strangers, and donating money as a total and as a percentage of individual income. According to the research, Charity Aid Foundation concluded that the United States was the most generous country in the entire world, in all three categories of criteria measured. Richard Harrison, director of research at the UK based Charities Aid Foundation declared, “the world really needs America; it needs its generosity, its resource and spirit, and though times are really hard, this is the time we need to keep giving as much as we possibly can.” The leaders of charitable organizations around the world are declaring that the world does not need less free market economies in the world. In fact, they are saying that we need more countries like the United States, who are both prosperous and moral.
The free market system has been under attack since the days it was first proposed. Those who disapprove of the free market often claim that the idea of self-interest proposed in the free market will lead to the moral decay of a society. Those who believe this often go on to say that the government should be more powerful than the people, in order to prevent the moral decay from happening. In defense of the free market, we have proven this theory to be false in three ways. 1. Moral character can only exist among creatures that are given the freedom of choice. If man is not allowed to make personal decisions of his own free will and choice, he is living in a regressed state incapable of having moral character. 2. We have seen in the history of the world enough instances that prove that the more power that is held by the government, the more the people suffer. 3. Citizens living under Free Market Economies have proven to be the most charitable and generous in the world. The free market system is the greatest safeguard for the preservation of the right to choose, according to the dictates of our own conscience. The inherent responsibility associated with this right, is to live a life worth honoring. We have been given the opportunity to decide for ourselves which kind of legacy we will leave behind for others to remember.