Does “Free Market” Even Mean Anything?

Whenever you read the words “our free market system,” it should raise a red flag. See, for example an article titled “Nobel Prize Economists Say Free Market Competition Rewards Deception and Manipulation,” by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller (Evonomics, Jan. 6). Now, if “free market” means anything, it means an economy where all market exchange is free and voluntary, without coercive constraint. But as used in mainstream discourse, “the free market” means something like “neoliberal capitalism” or “the kind of corporate economy we have right now.” When right-wing politicians and talking heads, and mainstream (i.e. right-wing) libertarians defend the ungodly power and profits of big business against criticism, they refer to “our free market system.” And all too many critics of capitalism — although not all — slip into the lazy habit of referring to neoliberal corporate capitalism as “the free market.”

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