Sheldon Richman: U.S. Capitalism Isn't a 'Free Market'

Centuries of government intervention have distorted society and the economy considerably.

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Libertarians of all people should understand that decades—indeed, centuries—of government intervention have distorted society and the economy considerably. It's safe to say that both would look different had that intervention not occurred. To pick one American example, the creation of an integrated, continent-wide national market in the United States was in large part consciously planned by government officials and their corporate cronies, writes Sheldon Richman, especially (but hardly exclusively) through transportation subsidies.

This system is American capitalism, which is to be distinguished from the spontaneous, decentralized free market, argues Richman. The whole point of a government-led effort to create a national market was to impose costs on taxpayers, who had no choice in the matter, rather than have businesses charge consumers, who would have had a choice, at the checkout counter. Since national firms' retail prices don't have to reflect the full cost of production, consumption is distorted and smaller firms are harmed. We cannot say exactly how things would look had the government not instituted this corporatist policy, but we can say that things would be different.

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