The Soviet challenge is gone. Socialism has been discredited by tyranny. The economy has expanded for an entire decade. Stock values continue to exceed all rational expectations. Unemployment is at record lows. Consumer confidence remains high. Production is humming. Americans are awash in new products, gadgets and goods. And everywhere you look, free market ideology reigns with the swagger and arrogance of an undisputed champ.
But, wait! We have a challenger. On Free Market Fantasies: Capitalism in the Real World, noted MIT linguist and political dissident, Noam Chomsky, steps into the ring to personally debunk the myth of the free market by pulling back the curtain on the Wizards of Dollars in American society. He puts forth a powerful one-man rebuttal to what he calls the “cult of the free market.” For a scrawny, bespectacled, old scholar, the result packs a devastating wallop.
According to Chomsky, the chasm between “free market fantasies” and “really existing free market theory,” that is the one that is actually applied and not talked about, is acute and growing. The dominant political rhetoric of our time states that the poor and working-class must learn responsibility and be subjected to market discipline which is good for building character through tough love. The state should not intervene to help out these folks when they struggling or fail. Conversely, most wealthy individuals and corporations demand a “nanny state” to protect them from market discipline so that they can rant and rave about the marvels of the free market while getting properly subsidized by others through the state. Despite the rhetoric of laissez-faire and free competition, these same wealthy interests demand state aid to minimize competitive risk and help maximize profits. So, if anything goes wrong, the state, through tax dollars, intervenes to bail out the corporation or wealthy individual. In fact, according to Fortune magazine, every single one of the top 100 leading transnational corporations benefited from state intervention on their behalf. Twenty of that 100 were saved from total disaster, meaning collapse, by state bailout. In effect, then, free market ideology is founded on a class-based double-standard.
Amid all the details and statistics that Chomsky presents to back up his views, though, there is a simple, but profound, point at the heart of the argument: There is no such thing as a “free market.” Never has been. Never will be. In fact, the government has always interceded in the economy, most consistently on the side of large corporations against the interests of the majority of American citizens. The important question, then, is not whether or not the government should intercede in the economy, but, rather, on whose behalf they should act and toward what end. Chomsky makes clear that “free markets” are intended only for the poor.
In the end, it is hard to argue with Chomsky’s compelling evidence. Free Market Fantasies provides a necessary tonic to the triumphalist back-slapping of the global economy’s Captains of Industry. It reminds us that there is nothing magical or mystical about the market and that it is not a panacea for all of the ills facing the United States. Free Market Fantasies is heady stuff, for sure; a little like medicine. It might not always go down smoothly, but it is definitely good for you.
// Notes from the Road
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