Dan Popp
Unregulated capitalism and other scary stories
By Dan Popp
April 28, 2014

Too often we ... enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. – John F. Kennedy

It feels like quite a while ago that the head of the Roman Catholic Church wrote something that appeared to fault capitalism. His apologists are still telling us that the Pope wasn't talking about capitalism in general, but about "unregulated capitalism." OK. But what is that?

Whatever unregulated capitalism is, I'd like to see it. Where in the world is it? Has it ever been spotted? A polemic against unregulated capitalism is like a warning to Watch Out for Sasquatch. I promise to be duly terrified if you can prove it exists.

At first glance unregulated, or unfettered, or unrestrained capitalism seems to mean a market where there are either no rules, or no enforcement of the rules. But this cannot actually occur. At your local farmer's market, to use the simplest example, there are sellers, buyers, and product/produce. But there must be something else. If you pay for an apple but don't get an apple, you haven't made a market transaction; you've been robbed. If you take an apple without paying for it, likewise, something other than capitalism is going on.

A market cannot come into being without rules and the hope of impartial application of those rules. That's going to require a third party with authority respected by both buyers and sellers. That begins to look like a government. Government's role is to enforce contracts and to prevent bad neighborhood effects. No farmer is intentionally going to deliver the fruit of his labors to the thief; no buyer will walk into a dark alley wearing a sign reading, "Rob Me." Without rules and the credible threat of harm against those who break them, the marketplace will remain a vacant lot.

Yes, the government also provides the means of exchange (money) for the transaction. But the market could exist using barter or bitcoin or any other kind of agreed-upon payment. And it's true that the government builds the roads by which the farmer and the shopper get to the market. But it's a myth that only government can build roads. People were making roads on this continent – bridges, too – long before government got into the act. Today the best roads are privately owned roads.

I'm saying that king's highways and sovereign currency are conveniences to the market, not necessities. What's necessary is the law & order function of government. If you see a market, you see the effect of that kind of regulation.

But there's another possible meaning of "unregulated capitalism," and that is that not every transaction in the market has been approved by the powerful. Remember that Marxist "justice" has nothing to do with "all men" and how we are created; justice to them is something that goes "from each," "to each," according to the Committee's will. What is really unregulated, unbounded and unchecked is the left's willingness to use the violent means of government to achieve whatever result they want.

Under this definition of "unregulated capitalism," it's something that happens whenever people buy and sell outside the leftist's favor and observation, no matter how many rules are on the books. He, from his throne, must not only set the price of the apple, but also specify how it shall and shall not be grown, how it shall and shall not be transported, and the hours and working conditions of the farmer. He will also determine every detail of the life and decision-making process of the buyer. I suppose this would be, in his mind, "regulated capitalism." Of course this is not capitalism at all, but totalitarianism.

Someone may accuse me of creating a false choice. There are many degrees of regulation, he may say, between anarchy and 1984. But remember, this isn't my term. Surely "unregulated" means either "without laws" or "without the particular (illegal) bureaucratic commands that we call 'regulations.'" "Unregulated" must mean something different than "properly regulated." If the leftist were to use that term, he'd be obliged to define "properly," and to use logical arguments to defend his proposals for proper regulations. But if he had wished to engage in rational debate, he wouldn't have felt the need to create a bogeyman in the first place.

The difference between the Loch Ness Monster and unregulated capitalism is that one of them is not a self-contradiction.

© Dan Popp


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