The Unfree Market

“You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store”

Capitalist from Monopoly gameBusiness leaders, politicians, and red-side media pundits like to promote the advantages of the free market and how it has built a strong economy. In a totally free market, of course, there would be no regulation of any kind, wages would be as low as companies could drive them, corporate taxes would be zero, child labor and environmental pollution would be simply be ways to reduce costs, and government agencies, such as the police, would enforce the right of corporate entities to all of the above by suppressing protests and union recruiting. That’s how a free market is defined from the side of the corporations. That’s how it has often worked in the past.

When it comes to the consumer, however, their attitude toward the free market is a little different. We aren’t supposed to know too much because then we might see the real consequences of a totally free market to ourselves, our children, our society, and our planet. To prevent that from happening, industry has no trouble at all restricting the information consumer’s so we get to make decisions in an unfree market.

Bill Maher devoted his monologue to this subject a few weeks ago and made some excellent points. As @billmaher said on June 26, “Regulations are supposed to protect people from corporations, not corporations from people.” Here’s a partial list of the things that business, politicians, and lobbyists have deemed it too dangerous for us to know because our knowledge might be a dangerous thing—for their profits..

  • How animals in the human food chain are cared for and slaughtered.
  • The impact of gun violence on American society
  • Whether there’s pink slime in your hamburger
  • Whether our food contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
  • Where our beef comes from 

Cases in Point

Here are three examples of ways in which industry has acted to restrict the amount of information consumers are allowed to have:

  • Vermont passes GMO labeling lawIn 2013 Monsanto spent $46 million to lobby against California’s Proposition 37, which would have required GMO labeling on food so that consumers could make an informed decision about what they fed their families. Prop 37 did not ban GMO foods—it simply required that they be labeled. Heavy lobbying and marketing by the agricultural industry persuaded voters that food costs would skyrocket and they defeated the proposition. Last year another attempt failed to pass the California Senate. Because who needs to know?
  • Seven states, Idaho most recently, have laws against secretly filming animal abuse at factory farms. As Idaho’s Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said last week when he signed that state’s “ag-gag” bill, the law “is about agriculture producers being secure in their property and their livelihood.” In other words, if people really knew what the conditions were like in these agricultural facilities they might stop buying the product. This has happened when secret videos taken by employees in chicken farms and slaughterhouses went viral. Such muck-raking would threaten the industry’s livelihood and it’s easier to ban filming than it is to clean up the conditions. Here, take another bite.
  • The House Committee on Appropriations last month barred the Centers for Disease Control from funding research on gun violence in party-line vote. This action retains a measure that was first attached to a spending bill by a pro-NRA Congressman nearly 20 years ago. If we really knew the impact of gun violence on everyone in our society, we might be motivated to do something about it and that would threaten the gun industry’s profits. We can’t put children’s lives ahead of industry profits so let’s just not know about it. There, doesn’t that feel better.

Corporations Are More Equal

What’s that you say? You’re an intelligent and educated person who is capable of making his or her own decisions? Well, the industry version of the free market says otherwise. After all, those corporations are people too according to the Supreme Court in their Citizens United ruling and they get to buy more votes than you do. That makes them more equal in the eyes of the law.

We the Corporations: the Constitution according to Citizens unitedThere’s a presidential election coming up so just remember that every time you hear the words “free market” they mean one thing to you and something entirely different to corporations. Oh, don’t forget to vote for politicians who take money from lobbyists to support government restrictions on consumer information. That way you get to stay fat, dumb and happy.

As for me, I’ll keep trying to get as much information as I can. I try to be happy but I’m neither fat nor dumb. I don’t like being condescended to or kept in the dark. I also don’t like being treated like an idiot. I like facts and I’m going to keep looking for as many as I can. I’ll keep you posted.

“Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man’s made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that’s a-weak and a back that’s strong”

Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford

3 thoughts on “The Unfree Market

  1. Aline: I can’t intelligently comment on everything, but I will say this: regulations cost. Now, some regulation is needed – and I would agree with the idea of, for example, GMO/non-GMO labeling.

    As to the “cost of gun violence”, I’d strongly suggest reading the book ARMED by Kates and Kleck. I’ll cheerfully loan you my copy. Also, watch this video:

    • It’s an interesting video, David — if you are interested in statistics instead of lives and saying we’re not as bad as those other countries. But my point in the post is that we should have the information we need to make informed decisions. Lobbyists and industry organizations should not be able to prevent information from being collected so that we can analyze it and formulate appropriate responses. If the NRA really believed what was in the video, they would support collecting data on gun violence because it would support their position.

      • It’s because the NRA – and members like myself – do not trust the objectivity of those who will be collecting the data.

        For example, the Kellerman study, which originally purported to show that the presence of a gun in the house increases the likelihood a person in that house could be shot by a ratio of 43:1, which was then revised down by over an ORDER OF MAGNITUDE to 2.7:1, was found to be utterly fraudulent.

        There’s a great article I am willing to copy and send to you on some of the more egregious violations coming from the public health field on this if you are interested. And, again, I offer to loan my copy of ARMED to you.

        Side note: I used to be vehemently anti-gun… until my cop neighbor suggested I get one for self-defense. Since this violated everything I’d ever known/heard, I got curious. And I wrote to both sides for information.

        As someone who makes his living with statistics and such, the NRA was far, far more truthful and complete than HCI (Handgun Control Inc, now known as the Brady Center). I’m not saying that the NRA was pure as the driven snow, but HCI was outrageous in its misuse.

        Another example was when John Lott released an enormous study of the effects of concealed carry on crime. By far the most comprehensive and detailed study ever done, it showed a significant and statistically-significant reduction in crime from “shall issue” CCW permits. It was, as you can imagine, immediately attacked… often by people who had not read it (and who admitted they had not read it).

        Lott released his data and methods and model to anyone, even his critics. And to the best of my knowledge, even gun control advocates could – at most – show CCW had no effect, while others replicated Lott’s results. Yet, despite multiple verifications and replications of Lott’s results, his results are STILL derided.

        Let me repeat my first paragraph: I do NOT TRUST the CDC to research this objectively.

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