We Are The Economy They Want to Regulate

Strictly speaking, it's not markets that can and should be free-it's people.


Xinhua/Sipa USA/Newscom

Critics of the libertarian philosophy think they can score points by calling libertarians "market fundamentalists." It's supposed to conjure images of dogmatic religious fundamentalists, just like the term global warming denier is supposed to conjure images of Holocaust deniers. It's a smear, of course, and if you think the tactic discredits those who employ it, I agree. The fact is that libertarians cannot be market fundamentalists. Why not? Because in the libertarian worldview, the market is not fundamental. What's fundamental is every person's right to be free from aggressive force. So fine, I'm a freedom fundamentalist. Guilty.

Strictly speaking, it's not markets that can and should be free—it's people. The term free market merely describes one political-legal context in which people conduct themselves. It's shorthand for a subset of human action—the exchange of goods and services, usually for money. (The logic of human action, the study of which Ludwig von Mises called praxeology, applies to all purposeful conduct, not just market exchange.)

It follows, then, that when politicians and activists call on the government to regulate the economy, they mean to regulate us. There's no economy to regulate. It's not a machine or a vehicle. It's an unending series of purposeful activities the logic of which gives rise to a process characterized by regularities. Hence, for example, the law of supply and demand. We can talk about this orderly process—the market—as though it were a thing, but we have to keep its metaphorical nature in mind. It's still only people cooperating with each other.

When market critics demand government regulation, they imply that markets are by nature unregulated. But we've just seen that this is nonsense. An unregulated market is a logical contradiction. That we call it a market indicates the regularities, or laws, just mentioned. No regularity—no market. There could no more be an unregulated market than there could be a grammarless language or a perpetually disorderly society. We would not call a population a society if it did not display a general order expressed by rules (written and unwritten), customs, and mores. Without such things, a population would be not a society but a Hobbesian state of nature.

So the question is not whether the market should be regulated, but who should regulate it. And the only two choices are: 1) market participants through the exercise of their free and peaceful choices or 2) politicians and bureaucrats relying on the threat of violence to impose their will.

Easy choice, I'd say.

Those who doubt the market is intrinsically regulated when people are completely free need only ask themselves what would happen if someone charged $100 for an apple or offered to pay workers $1 an hour (assuming no legislation forbidding this). The answer is simple: others would offer lower prices for apples and higher wages to workers. No need for government regulation. In other words, competition would discipline the would-be gouger and miser. Competition simply means the freedom to offer better terms to consumers and workers. As I say, free markets are nothing but free persons.

Those who think cooperation is preferable to competition should realize they are two sides of the same coin. Competition is what happens when we're free to choose with whom we wish to cooperate. Two shoe stores compete, each hoping to be the one that cooperates with me in my quest for new shoes.

Critics really must stop reifying the market because markets don't do things or have purposes. Only people do things and have purposes. You often hear it said (unfortunately, by some economists) that markets ration goods and services. This is often the retort when critics of national health insurance warn that rationing would eventually be necessary to sustain the system. When a government bureaucracy allocates medical services, that is indeed rationing. Think of food rationing during World War II, when you could buy no more eggs than your government-issued stamps allowed.

Nothing like that happens when people cooperate in the marketplace. Buyers decide how to spend their money, and sellers decide how many goods they wish to sell. There is no central plan according to which an authority allocates resources. Thus, there is no rationing in the market. There are just people exchanging goods, services, and money in order to mutually improve their situations.

Finally, the great free-market economist Frédéric Bastiat taught us long ago that a key blessing of freedom is all the free stuff it bestows on society. You read that right: free stuff. As he wrote in his unfinished magnum opus, Economic Harmonies (Chapter 8, "Private Property and Common Wealth"):

That … veil which is spread before the eyes of the ordinary man, which even the attentive observer does not always succeed in casting aside, prevents us from seeing the most marvelous of all social phenomena: real wealth constantly passing from the domain of private property into the communal domain. [Emphasis added.]

Bastiat anticipated that such talk would brand him as a communist, but he meant every word—namely, that as technology (as Bastiat described it, the turning of production "over to Nature") and competition reduce the toil required to obtain goods, more and more of the services rendered by those goods ("real wealth") become free. That is, consumers acquire those services without the expenditure of effort. As I wrote some years ago in "Bastiat on the Socialization of Wealth":

If the average worker had to work two hours, 40 minutes, to buy a chicken in 1900, but only 14 minutes as the 21st century approached (actual statistics), Bastiat would say the chicken "is obtained for less expenditure of human effort; less service is performed as it passes from hand to hand; … in a word, it has become gratis, [though] not completely." In other words, most of the utility that had to be paid for with painful effort in 1900 was free by 2000.

Since technology substitutes the free services of nature for the exertions of human beings, they cannot command a price in the market—as long as everyone is free to compete. If someone tried to charge for what nature supplies gratis, competition (assuming no IP barriers) would drive down the price, eliminating the remuneration for nature's contribution. Our enjoyment of the free benefits bestowed by nature is what Bastiat meant when he wrote of the "communal domain": that is, "those things that we enjoy in common, by the design of Providence [nature], without the need of any effort to apply them to our use. They can therefore give rise to no service, no transaction, no property."

I am drawn to Bastiat's innovative explanation because it's potentially useful for grabbing the attention of people who today don't like the market. What if they could see it as an arena for social cooperation and, à la Bastiat, the true socialization of wealth? So you can imagine my excitement when I read this lecture, "The Case for Free-Market Anticapitalism," by one of my favorite writers, Matt Ridley. Here's what struck me:

I want to argue that the champions of markets and enterprise need to recapture their radicalism, to reassert the right to be a disruptive, even subversive, not a reactionary, force in the world….

The truly radical idea was and is the one in which we say, hang on a minute, maybe society does not need to be told what to do. Maybe the economy should be bottom-up, not top-down….

You can see where I am going here, can you not? That true communism, true collectivism, is created by the market, not the state. That the deepest cooperation is what we achieve by buying and selling. It's time we told the young this. They will never have heard it….

To be a follower of Adam Smith was to be radical left-winger, against imperialism, militarism, slavery, autocracy, the established church, corruption and the patriarchy.

Precisely. As we've come to expect, Ridley shatters old categories to present great truths in fresh ways to new audiences. So should we all.

This piece was originally published by The Libertarian Institute.

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  1. Sometimes Ridley comes off as an old fuddy duddy, even when I agree with him. I guess it’s the writing style or vocabulary or whatnot. But I had to laugh at myself when I read that column a couple of days ago, saying that ultimate liberty of individuals may as well be called communism, since it provides everything Marx wanted. Struck me as so true as to be invisible, much like Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Of course it’s not true in Marx’s sense, but Marx hadn’t a clue about reality and spontaneous order or emergent order or whatever you call reality in the absence of coercive government.

    Same sort of applies to saying that “free market” is really “free people”. Well of course. Seemed kind of stupid to write an entire column about it. D’oh. But it is easy to forget the difference, to focus on that one aspect of liberty and forget what liberty really means.

    So thanks, and thanks for mentioning Bastiat. Every time I read something by him, I wonder if he was as clear in the original French, or did he just have good translators? The style doesn’t seem remotely like anything else from the 1800s. Crystal clear, simple. Wish I could write like that.

    1. Free markets aren’t people; free markets are evil KKKorporations running roughshod over our rights. At least that seems to be the way most people see it.

      1. Well, the “evil KKKorporations” do indeed run roughshod over our rights… With one big giant “but” that the liberals willfully miss! The “but” is, “but they only do that when they can freely collude with Government Almighty, to tax and regulate their competitors out of being able to compete fairly.” Abuse of IP laws, AKA “patent trolls”, fits right in there, by the way… As, of course, do licensing laws, too… And “certificate of needs”, as in hospitals, and on and on…

    2. Adam Smith inserted “willing” into supply & demand, and identified another hand–the unproductive hand–as the destroyer of the Wealth of Nations. Yet when was the last time you saw a looter paper make mention of that Forgotten Hand? By obfuscating the willingness to buy and sell and switching in the notion that the violence of law is directed against an abstract “market” form of utilitarian monster, the individual whose life is snuffed to provide an example and incentive for others to unquestioningly submit to coercion becomes Sumner’s “Forgotten Man.”

  2. …when politicians and activists call on the government to regulate the economy, they mean to regulate us.

    WRONG. It means you are the economy I want government to regulate.

    1. and WHY do you want Someone in a government designed and supplied costume, and carrying a gun (or with a co-worker who does and will come round as soon as the first Someone summons him) to tell YOU what to do, what NOT to do, how much this will cost, what “services” you MUST have (and pay for, whether they are any good or not), from whom to purchase them, and to whom YOU must sell your own expended labour and capital, and to turn over this many Dead Benjamins every year so THEY can give it to others who aren’t as smart/ambitious/profitable as you are?
      We fought the Brits and drove them off this continent not one, but twice, because “THEY had a mind they should tell us how we should life, and we had a mind that they wouldn’t.”

      Either Marx and Lenin and that sad sack of a kinyun were right, or those Colonials that fought at Lexington, Concord, Breed’s Hill, and all the way to Yorktown were and remain right.

  3. It’s really very very simple. Either slavery is always everywhere wrong, or markets need regulation. One or the other.
    Regulating a market, positive rights, any of that nonsense inherently involves enslaving a person to someone’s will.
    It is never okay. Or slavery is okay, as long as it happens to somebody else.

    1. We need to enslave all of the doctors, nurses, medical lab technicians, and dieticians, cooks, and bottle-washers at the hospital, so that we can all have FREE medical care! But then, the hospital buys food, electricity, construction materials to build the hospital building in the 1st place, and so on… Enslave the whole “supply chain”, we must! ALL must be SLAVES!!!

      (The only ones NOT enslaved will be the politicians, such as Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Bernie Sanders, etc.).

      All Hail, Comrade! VERY progressive!!!

      1. See, the plan is so obvious. Yet people keep thinking that somehow it’s everybody else who’s going to be enslaved and they’re going to get to wield the whip. Or more realistically, that someone else will wield the whip for them.
        The only slightly more realistic think an acceptable trade-off is the fantasy that somehow the whippers and whipped will change up so everyone gets ‘equal time’ as slaver and slave.

    2. It’s really very very simple. Either slavery is always everywhere wrong, or markets need regulation. One or the other.

      Slavery was a legal construct created by government: slavery was the result of market regulation.

  4. I see mentioned here that “free market” is a sub-set of “free humans”, AKA, “freedom”. As others have said, “capitalism” is a deceitful word? It implies an “ism” or an ideology, whereas it is simply letting people do what they want to do, when exchanging money, goods, and labor. Anyway, “free market” = sub-set of “freedom”.
    Well, how about abstracting one more time? “Freedom” = subset of “treating others the way we want to be treated”. I don’t want you to use threats of force and violence against me, all day, every day, telling me what to do and not to do, all while pretending to be all oh-so-morally-superior to me, so I shouldn’t do that to you, either!

    1. Historically, the main use of the term “capitalism” has been for demagogues to whip their communists and fascists followers into a violent rage.

      1. No, it was simply to refer to they who put their time, energy, skill, resources, cash, ideas, together to produce something others might value, and gain an increase on actual costs expended to produce that something of value to others. The term was around and in common use long before Marx and Stalin came onto the scene.

        1. You’re wrong. Go check on Google n-grams. The term started coming into common use after the publication of Das Kapital, and then took off big time in the late 1920’s with the rise of fascists in Europe. Before around 1870, the term was irrelevant, and it never enjoyed widespread usage except in discussions engendered by people who hated free markets and individual liberties.

          (Since the late 20th century, there have been some tepid attempts by people to own the term, the say way homosexuals started owning the terms “gay”, “queer”, and “faggot”.)

    2. Capitalism was invented by one of Karl’s groupies to describe mercantilism–which is what Smith really defended. Folks who actually take time off from teevee to READ the stuff are shocked at Smith’s hearty endorsement of Britain’s shoot-to-kill Acts of Navigation designed to attack Dutch commerce. It wasn’t until 1914, as opium wars escalated into The Big One, that a cogent definition of government gained enough circulation to improve on Jefferson’s faith-based description of it in the Declaration. And it was only during the WWII War Crimes trials–in which no true Frenchman could agree on the definition of “aggression” that Ayn Rand penned her 1947 letter explaining the initiation of force. The LP has existed for more than half of the 70 years that have since elapsed. We, the living, are the nightmare the death-worshipping parents of communo-fascist socialism warned their zombies against!

      1. The words “capital”, “capitalist”, “capitalism” were invented long before Marx. Go back to at least the 1100s in the Italian city-states, I believe. Near as I can tell, all it meant was someone who invested his money in someone else’s business. I don’t know if the original meaning included the expectation of a profit, or if that even was a distinction then like it is now with government “investing” in crony businesses. when the government is the rich businessmen, the distinction is meaningless.

        1. The term was used sporadically by a few writers as a constructed word for different concepts; it didn’t have an “original meaning” when used in that way.

          In its modern form, it was effectively introduced into English by translations of Karl Marx, and it really took off with the rise of communism and fascism in Europe. You can verify that on Google n-grams. Of course, the term “capitalism” has no defined meaning for communists or fascists either, other than “that’s the people we hate”.

          Seriously, before making stupid claims like that, just check the obvious sources.

    3. And “doing what they want to do” frequently doesn’t involve a traditional capitalist arrangement. The open source community is an example of real economic value created in ways that really looks nothing like capitalism.

      1. I have no idea what you think “capitalism” should look like, given that it is a derogatory term used by leftists to refer to any kind of free markets.

        However, the open source movement is very something closely tied to free markets; open source could never have taken off under tightly regulated markets, socialism, or communism.

  5. The logic of human action, the study of which Ludwig von Mises called praxeology, applies to all purposeful conduct, not just market exchange.

    “All purposeful conduct” includes politics. The free market in politics unfortunately allows people who want to abolish free markets to have a vote that counts just as much as anybody else’s vote.

    I’ve said it a thousand times, we do live in a libertarian world – people are free to support whatever sort of government they want, including socialism and dictatorships. This is what you get when everybody’s free to pursue their own interests in enslaving everybody else into their version of a better world. If you’re not willing to engage in violence against people who are perfectly willing and eager to do violence to you, well, you’re kinda fucked.

    1. Look at Bernie Sanders – I don’t think he’s crazy or stupid or evil, he just firmly believes shit that just ain’t so and he’s willing to use a certain amount of force to impose his opinions on other people. Some of his followers are willing to go much further in the violence department. Now, it’s not really their fault they believe stupid shit but if you can’t argue them or outnumber them out of their attempts to impose their stupid shit, well, a rabid dog or a rattlesnake isn’t at fault for being a danger but you do what you need to do to get rid of the danger just the same.

      1. If he believes shit that just ain’t so and is willing to use ‘a certain level’ (its always a certain level – at the beginning) of force to impose his opinions on other people then he *is* crazy, stupid, *and* evil.

        1. Rebuttal 101.

      2. If someone believes something that is facially untrue it is absolutely their fault. Even being brainwashed is only an excuse for so long if the means exist to alter their basis for fact.

    2. We do not live in a “libertarian world”. In a libertarian world, you are only free to do act as long as you don’t hurt other people or take their property. Voting for the IRS to take away people’s property against their will is incompatible with libertarianism.

      As you observe, however, it is compatible with one of many forms of democracy, namely majoritarianism, AKA mob rule.

      The kind of democracy we would like to have in the US is libertarian democracy, that is a form of democracy where government is by the people and for the people, but subject to the constraint that it must respect the non-aggression principle.

      1. This is the kind of democracy (republicanism to be more exact), that we are guaranteed under the Constitution. The Constitution supposedly limits mob rule or pure democracy, in that government shall pass no laws which violate our rights. The majority can’t pass laws to limit speech, press, rule of law, right to bear arms, etc. The exception in our case is that a super-majority can through the amendment process (a good example being the 18th amendment which was thankfully repealed).

        So yes, the United States Constitution guarantees us something of a “libertarian world.” But the dilution of that meaning towards pure democracy or rule of the majority has been the enemy of libertarianism arguably since Marbury v Madison, and primarily through Judicial Review, as the Constitution has been expanded in meaning as a “living document”. Those who wish to undermine the rights of the people primarily in the Bill or Rights in order to promote the power of the state are the real enemies of libertarianism.

        1. I agree that the Constitution attempted to guarantee a libertarian world. But we are discussing the world we actually live in, and that world is clearly not a libertarian world. That is, the US Constitution failed to deliver in the long term what it sought to guarantee.

    3. We do live in a world that is accurately described by Austrian economics.

      However, libertarianism is not identical to Austrian economics.

    4. We live in an anarchist world. People think that governments and rule of law are real things. But they aren’t. All there is is individuals acting as they see fit.

      1. until someone wearing a government designed and issued costume comes round with his gun and informs yuo that you ARE coming along with him…. WHY? you protest. “Shut up and come with me now or I will use the violence I have at my disposal to either make you comply or permanentluy silence you. ” This can, and does, happen for such things as failing to keep the grass/weeds in yuor front yard trimmed to a specifid maximum height, or for having a car that does not run visible from the street, or for failing to ransom your car from them when the little plastic stickers they “sell” you for exhorbitant quantites of money on the false promise they will spend that money to keep the roads in good repair. Or how about, in some states, walking into a bar with your legally possessed handgun on your hip, even if you don’t touch a drop. (some states “allow you” to do that, others do not)

        1. Even so, that weirdly costumed guy has the power he has because if he hurts or kills you, some guy in a black robe says it’s ok, and everyone around you will either say “Yeah, you deserved it, because you violated our rules” or “Well, yeah, you have a point, but I don’t want the people in funny costumes coming after me, so you’re on your own”, and so forth.

          If people opposed such behavior, they would do away with those laws, or fight the people who create them. For better and for worse, though, we don’t. We have this notion of “societal law” that enables the law to seem to exist; sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s a bad thing, but in the end, it’s all enabled because of millions of people agreeing to the results, to one degree or another, and there are an insufficient number of people who disagree with the law to be able to change the hearts and minds of those around them…

          Thus, we paradoxically live in an anarchy that cages us with laws of our own design…

      2. You’re right that “all there is is individuals acting as they see fit”.

        But governments are very real nevertheless. They simply aren’t representative of the will of the people, they are tools that individuals use to enrich themselves.

  6. Good article, but for one omission. The mercantilism looters mistakenly point to as an uncoerced market, before pointing to The Invisible Hand as proof the thing is a superstitious hallucination, is misdirection by omission and equivocation. James Watt is partly to blame for calling his engine regulator–the one with the spinning balls on swivel joints–a “governor.” To Altrurians, this loophole facilitated that obliqueness of language through which a monopoly on harmful, coercive, deadly force was retasked as the benevolent crusher of freedom of action. In Adam Smith’s formulation of supply and demand, willingness is the modifier totalitarians struggle to evade. The very thought that the unproductive hands, the ones unseen by them, are what destroy the wealth of nations is another notion the literature of coercion bowdlerizes out of polite conversation. Willingness is the market “force” looters want you to overlook, and force is the violence of law directed against individuals now re-identified as a “force”-wielding evil market. Willingness is Sheldon’s forgotten Word. The “will” politicians impose is coercion and the willing choice individuals make is freedom.

  7. If you are for FREEDOM, why do you oppose the FREEDOM of everybody to have a FREE abortion? A FREE education? A FREE pony? How can anybody be FREE if they are FORCED to work in order to get the stuff they want? You evil “free” market fundamentalist! /prog

    1. Nobody was forced to contribute to the FREE operating system I’m using. Free markets had nothing to do with its creation.

      1. OMG.

      2. Was that also supposed to be sarcastic?

        Just to be crystal clear: if market regulations required certifications for programmers or software, there would be no free operating systems. And the regulators are sharpening their pencils already.

        1. “Was that also supposed to be sarcastic?”

          Pretty sure that’s vintage trueman bullshit.

        2. “if market regulations required certifications for programmers or software, ”

          Not sure what you’re driving at. The FREE operating system I’m using now has nothing to do with market regulations. It saw its beginnings as part of the requirements for a Master’s Degree from a state university in Europe.

          1. Re: mtrueman,

            The FREE operating system I’m using now has nothing to do with market regulations.

            That statement completely contradicts this statement you posted at the top: “Free markets had nothing to do with its creation.”

            They cannot be reconciled. One is a true statement – that the free operating system you’re using had nothing to do with market regulations. The other is an obvious falsehood.

            1. I’m referring to the ‘Linux’ operating system. Not Windows or others. It was created by a graduate student for his degree at a public university in Europe.

              1. Linux is a kernel, not an operating system.

                1. I’ve got your kernel right here.

                2. And that kernel, and the many operating systems that use it, has been developed over the years, largely by companies who find it useful.

                  Perhaps you are right that the original development had little to do with markets (but you will get some argument there too), but Linux becoming what it is today has everything to do with the free market.

                  1. “but Linux becoming what it is today has everything to do with the free market.”

                    Because there are no laws preventing people from writing software. I got it. My idea of a market is slightly different. It’s a place where goods and services are exchanged, just as rudehost pointed out some time ago.

                    1. And a market that is not free prevents you from exchanging good or services. Linux is an economic good and free software development is a service, and hence they are part of a market. The fact that you charge $0 for them doesn’t change that simple fact; it’s no different from charging $1 or charging -$1. In fact, many countries actually tax free services.

          2. If computers were a regulated market like housing, Linus would not have been allowed to write Linux and you wouldn’t be allowed to run it, at least not without massive regulatory costs that would make it non free. That’s why the free market was essential for the creation of Linux.

            1. “If computers were a regulated market like housing,”

              You don’t need to plug a house in to live in it. You need power to operate a computer, and the electricity to power a computer comes from a source that is heavily regulated. This notion of the regulation free market is illusory. It only exists as an ideal.

              1. Yes, it came from regulated electricity! That’s how it has nothing to do with regulations! Because, regulations!

                Why does he keep having to repeat himself, over and over again? Get it right the first time, people.

                1. It comes down to market economy and gift economy.

                  1. Gift economy: that’s a thing!

              2. I’m sorry, I can’t quite figure out what’s wrong with you. Is such a simple analogy really too complicated for you?

                You need government permission to live in a house. If your house doesn’t conform to zoning restrictions and building codes or doesn’t pass inspection, the city will condemn it, fine you, and remove you from it by force if necessary. That’s one of the reasons housing is so expensive. Likewise, if computer software operated in such a highly regulated market, Linux would not exist. The existence of a free market in computer software was necessary for Linux to exist and succeed as free software.

                As for electricity, its regulation is neither necessary nor sufficient for you to get electrical service; utility regulation mostly just creates monopolies and drives up prices.

                1. “You need government permission to live in a house.”

                  Nonsense. I’ve lived in houses all my life and never once have had seek government permission. What kind of house do you have in mind? A jailhouse?

                  “Likewise, if computer software operated in such a highly regulated market, Linux would not exist. ”

                  You’re not thinking this through in your enthusiasm to claim linux as a market commodity. The market has always been heavily regulated. There are regulations against pirating software, copying movies and the like, but the software is out there. What regulations do you see successfully stopping the development linux? Copying a movie can lead to jail time, worse comes to worse. What are the penalties for these linux stopping regulations you foresee? Death?

                  1. Wow. Just wow.
                    It’s fun watching a concept zoom way over someones head.

                    1. The concept that a house and software are different zooms high indeed.

                  2. “Nonsense. I’ve lived in houses all my life and never once have had seek government permission.” Try not paying your property taxes, and you will find out what happens when the government revokes their permission.

                    1. ” Try not paying your property taxes”

                      Try not paying your sales taxes when you buy your next computer, and you will learn.

                  3. In order to live in your house, you need to conform with zoning regulations, building codes, and pay property taxes. If you fail to do any of those, you lose your right to occupy your house.

                    What regulations could stop you from developing Linux? Think of an FDA and FDA-like approval for software. Do you think Linux could have taken off if it had had to go through the same process costing hundreds of millions of dollars that new drugs have to go through because people can use them? Of course not. And, yes, non-compliance with government regulations leads to massive fines or jail time.

                2. If you don’t build your house to fire code, when it catches on fire it can also damage your neighbor’s house. Bad example. Some amount of regulation is needed to protect the commons and to live in society. If you want zero regulation buy yourself an island.

                  1. @Lester224 You’re putting up a strawman. We’re discussing whether the existence of Linux depended on the existence of a free market in software, and it did: if there had been analogous safety and licensing regulations for software that are common in many other markets, Linux would not exist.

                    As for the housing market, regulations and licensing requirements clearly drive up costs and prevent cheap housing from being created. You happen to think that those costs are worth the benefits. You’re entitled to that opinion, but it’s irrelevant to the question at hand.

              3. You don’t need to plug a house in to live in it.

                Actually, by law you do in many places.

                This notion of the regulation free market is illusory. It only exists as an ideal.

                You really missed the whole point of the article, didn’t you?

                1. “Actually, by law you do in many places.”

                  In many places you don’t. You can choose accordingly.

                  “You really missed the whole point of the article, didn’t you?”

                  I didn’t read it.

              4. People get thrown out of their houses on a regular basis because they refuse to connect to the grid for their electric, phone, gas/water/trash….. building codes nearly everywhere mandate that any dwelling have those amenities connected to the grid. Try truly going “off grid” and see how long it takes. When the power company pulls the plug on your service, the County or City will soon enough find out, and some dweeb in a pickup YOU helped buy and feed, will come round and DEMAND you reconnect…. or move out.

                1. Ongoing case right now, I think in rural Montana, chap , homeless for several years, lived in an old motor home hopping from WalMart to WalMart…. his Mum passed on, leafft him some cash, he bought eleven acres with most of it, got a small tractor, cleared a pad for the MoHome, dropped a sea freight can on the place, brought in a well, etc. Some idiot neighbour nosing about on HIS property, no permission and uninvted, saw a table in the can, reported that he was building the container into a dwelling unit. County Code Hooh Hahs come round, now are demanding he move ALL his stuff OFF the property until AFTER he has built a real live inspected authorised connected to grid and septic dwelling. You tell ME how free that chap is…….. the county bullies have the guns, and he does not. WHO will win? The gummit guys with the guns. Every time,

      3. Actually making something and giving it away for free on a voluntary basis is the very definition of the free market. All a free market means is you can engage in economic activity based upon mutually agreed upon rules rather than rules dictated by self interested bureaucracies. Capitalism is a potential arrangement in a free market not a defining one. It just happens to be one that has been popular and effective. I am sure that makes you sad.

        1. “Actually making something and giving it away for free on a voluntary basis is the very definition of the free market.”

          I thought a market was a mechanism to determine a price of a good. If the producer has decided her product is to be given away for FREE, the market serves no purpose and is not necessary.

          1. No a market is a place where people exchange goods and services based on voluntarily arranged conditions and of course the market serves a purpose absent prices. I’ll go back to open source. There are no prices but there are still market signals from people who do or don’t use a specific open source platform. They just manifest themselves differently. IE popular platforms are written about more, they are used more, and they attract more and better developers to work on them. The critique of the centrally planned authoritarian systems you prefer is that a handful of people are ill equipped to figure out the right mix of products and services for 300 million people they don’t know.

            Prices and money are a great way to solve that but that is because they are tools by which those 300 million people can signal their preferences. It is not the only way that is theoretically possible. The key here is not the money although money is useful. The key is the decentralization of decisions with those decisions being made by those that are the least ignorant of their own needs.

            The soviet union did have money after all. The problem there wasn’t that they lacked money as a tool. The problem is giving an adult tool to a bunch of retarded socialist monkeys is not likely to cause that tool to be put to good use.

            1. “No a market is a place where people exchange goods and services based on voluntarily arranged conditions ”

              I didn’t have to exchange anything when I got my copy of Linux. It wasn’t a market transaction.

              “IE popular platforms are written about more, they are used more, and they attract more and better developers to work on them.”

              Are you sure about this? Just because a ‘better developer’ has a job doesn’t mean she can’t freely contribute to projects like Linux in her spare time. My understanding that’s pretty normal. And save your red baiting for another time.

              1. Yes I’m sure. It’s my industry. Developers who do open source congregate to useful or interesting platforms not crap nobody wants.

                As far as not exchanging anything you are being quite pedantic. If you wish to go that route open source is generally “exchanged” for an agreement to not distribute without attribution. The point is a free market means people determine the basis by which goods or services are exchanged. It is your authoritarian top down centralized approach that free market types would have an issue with. They do not have an issue with market arrangements that don’t involve money. I am unaware of any free market types who are appalled by open source or find it to be anything other than a novel expression of the free market.

                Why do you hate the idea that I can make my own decisions without your help?

                1. “As far as not exchanging anything you are being quite pedantic. If you wish to go that route open source is generally “exchanged” for an agreement to not distribute without attribution. ”

                  You said yourself that a market is a place where goods and services are exchanged. This agreement takes the form of clicking a button. It is not a good or service.

                  I think you are wrong to equate activities that fall outside the market economy (like the linux os) with the Soviet Union. I think outfits like Microsoft which operate under the rules of the market economy are more Soviet, overbearing and bureaucratic. They are the embodiment of the authoritarian top down centralized approach. Open source at least aspires to anti-authoritarianism and decentralization.

                  “Why do you hate the idea that I can make my own decisions without your help?”

                  Just what decisions are we talking about here? What you’ve written so far doesn’t give me a lot of confidence.

              2. A lot of professional developers actually contribute to projects like Linux/GNU as their primary jobs. The idea that open source software is developed mostly by people volunteering their time and efforts isn’t really true.

                1. I didn’t mean to give the impression that you could pay someone to develop open source software. Sorry if this led to confusion.

          2. You thought wrong. Your lack of a basic understanding of economic terms probably explains why you are so confused about so many things.

            1. I think it’s you who are confused. You really don’t have to visit some market, regulated or otherwise, to obtain a copy of this operating system. There are other types of software that are available on the market, but open source is different. The work that went into it was freely contributed, and it’s free of charge.

              1. I know what Linux is; I booted some of the earliest versions off of floppy disks.

                Your problem is that you don’t understand what a “regulated market” is. Market regulations often apply even to transactions that are entirely private.

                If you get together with a bunch of friends and they help you build a house on your private property, you still are not allowed to live in it. That’s because the building market is regulated and only certain buildings and processes are allowed.

                The same is true for utilities and city services: it’s a regulated market, often with government-guaranteed monopolies. My neighbor may offer me to dispose of my waste for me for free, but city regulations of the service market prohibit that; the only service that may dispose of my waste is the city approved waste disposal monopoly.

                If software were traded in a regulated market analogous to housing, services, and utilities, you wouldn’t be allowed to run Linux in the first place, even if you obtain it privately and without paying anyone a dime. That’s the magic of regulated markets.

                1. “If software were traded in a regulated market analogous to housing”

                  The software I’ve been talking about isn’t traded. It’s given away freely and you don’t have to attend any market to get it. I’m really not sure what regulations you foresee which would prevent the development of something like linux. Laws against IP piracy have done nothing to stop the proliferation of file sharing software.

                  “If you get together with a bunch of friends and they help you build a house on your private property, you still are not allowed to live in it.”

                  Find a better neighbourhood.

                  1. “The software I’ve been talking about isn’t traded”

                    Yes it is traded, its just traded for something other than money.
                    What is so hard about understanding that in a free market one can trade a good or service for whatever two parties agree on, be it money, bread, sex, drugs, good feelings, respect, or gratitude?

                    Linux was traded for free due to the free choice of its creator. He was free to do that because software development operates in an unregulated free market.

                    If software development existed in a regulated market, such as building & construction (my area of expertise), then it is more likely that Linux would never had existed or would have cost you money. This is because in a regulated industry one is likely to need to pay for registration, insurances, compliance fees, etc, to be able to bring any product to market, making it unlikely or /illegal to give a product away for free due to the threat of bureaucratic bullshit.

                    As such the building argument holds true. If an unregistered person designed and built a house unbeknown to the relevant authorities, it would be illegal for the builder to: live in the house, sell the house OR give that house away for free. If there was no need for any registration or compliance (i.e the makings of a free market) than none of those legalities apply.

                    Linux is the house.

                    1. Linux isn’t traded, or exchanged or sold but given for free. I got my copy without having to give anything in return. This includes money, goods, gratitude or anything else. Obtaining a copy is not a market transaction. The market was not responsible for linux’s creation. It was part of studies for a graduate degree. If there were laws against writing software, then you are right, perhaps Linux would never have been created. But absence of a law is not the same thing as a free market.

                    2. Government prevents you from growing your own food on your own plot of land under market regulations under market regulations.

                      Government prevents you from giving away freely developed medical treatments to your neighbors under market regulations.

                      Government prevents you from living on a house you build yourself on your own land, and it can prevent you from building anything for anybody under market regulations.

                      Gifts and voluntary labor are subject to tax law and safety legislation.

                      Of course, government can subject the development, use, and distribution of free software developed privately to the same restrictive regulatory laws it subjects many other kinds of private, free, and voluntary behaviors to.

          3. Duh! Suppliers don’t need markets to set prices if they already picked a price.

            And since the market isn’t necessary to set the price, it’s not happening.


            Suck that, markets!

          4. I thought a market was a mechanism to determine a price of a good. If the producer has decided her product is to be given away for FREE, the market serves no purpose and is not necessary.

            Linux may not be traded or exchanged for things of value, but it still exits and operates under free market principles.

            There are numerous other entirely free alternatives to Linux out there. People have never heard of them or used them because by and large there is no demand for them. Should the demand for Linux evaporate, or should Linux be superseded by something superior, then demand for it too will fall and the number of users using, and developers developing will decrease. That is, the very essence of how a market works.

            From what I understand, Cornelius Vanderbilt, operated some of his passenger ferry services with no fare at all.
            Did he decide that his service was worthless? Of course not.
            The lack of a fare brought people on board his ferries, and he made up for the lack of an established fare by selling food.

            1. “Linux may not be traded or exchanged for things of value, but it still exits and operates under free market principles.”

              Because it’s a thing that some people want and others don’t want? That’s what makes it a free market? I think your definition of a market is too broad. I prefer rudehost’s: a place where goods and services are exchanged. Unfortunately, fails to satisfy this definition. No surprise there, Linux is the embodiment of the Soviet planned economy according to rudehost, a highly respected Reason commenter.

              1. The point we’re discussing is whether market regulations might have affected Linux development and exchange. And the simple fact is that there are many market regulations that regulate private behavior and gifts. For example, regulations of the agricultural markets prevents you from growing your own corn on your own land for your own private consumption. And if you give a valuable piece of art to a friend, there are taxes due on that gift. Market regulations frequently need to regulate private behavior that doesn’t “look like” commerce; they couldn’t function otherwise. Your semantic hair splitting about whether some activity ought to be considered part of the market or not is irrelevant.

    2. sorry, logic fail. In your first instance, the FREEDOM of the woman with that child within her womb to kill that child negates and destroyis the FREEDOM that child has to continue living his/her life and growiing and developing into the mature human bring he already is…. so leave that one out. As to a “free education” anyone who wants to can and may educate themselves, or find free help to do so, without reducing the wealth of one other person even to the sum of a nickel. Free pony? Sure…. head out into the desert and capture one of the feral colts out there. It won’t cost you, or anyone else, a nickel. As to your complaint about freedom being denied by work… sure, don’t work, find some place to live off the wild land, make your own stuff, and be content with what you have. NO ONE can honestly say they NEED a Dodge Demon.. with the insurance paid up and a fuel card on someone else…

  8. Market forces are people making choices, and it just can’t be said enough.

    I supposed the “invisible hand” metaphor doesn’t help reinforce that truth in people’s minds. It makes it sound like a supernatural force rather than people making choices.

    We talk about everything from cell organelles to molecular bonds as if these things had a will of their own. Why do oxygen molecules bond to hemoglobin? Well, that’s because of the nature of the relationship between oxygen saturation and the partial pressure of oxygen. It’s called “the hemoglobin affinity for oxygen”–as if molecules like things as humans do. When molecules have a certain number of electrons, we say “They’re happy to share”. In other states, they want to take an electron. “Affinity”, “happy”, “want”: we use these words to project human like behavior onto these molecules as metaphors–but they have no will.

    Meanwhile, we use inhuman metaphors like “market forces” or “invisible hand” when what we’re really talking about is people making choices.

    1. And sometimes people making individual choices does not accumulate to positive outcomes for individuals, but sometimes negative outcomes. Your tautology about how the market is the market comes with a value judgment that everything that comes out of the market is good for some reason. Yet without evil regulations, child sex slaves would be perfectly valid commodities.

      1. Yeah, sometimes some people make bad choices for themselves–this is your rebuttal?

        “Your tautology about how the market is the market comes with a value judgment that everything that comes out of the market is good for some reason.”

        There are a number of things wrong with that statement. I’ll just address one.

        One of the best things about free markets is that it allows individuals to make qualitative judgements for themselves rather than have those qualitative judgements made for them by some bureaucrat or politician. In other words, when we take qualitative judgements into consideration, it’s really hard to say what is and what isn’t a bad decision.

        If I pay more for a hybrid version of a car than I could possibly save in gasoline over the course of its useful life, is that a bad decision in your book? What if I care more about the environment than the extra cost of the car?

        What if other people care more about saving money for their families than they do about the environment?

        When you say that other people are making bad choices, and you’re not taking their personal qualitative preferences into consideration, your ability to judge the merits of other people’s choices is highly suspect–to say the least. A better word to describe your ability to judge the merits of other people’s qualitative preferences might be “laughable”.

        1. One of the best things about free markets is that it allows individuals to make qualitative judgements for themselves rather than have those qualitative judgements made for them by some bureaucrat or politician.

          False dilemma. Also extreme relativism. One might say the whole point of having a government is to chip off the rough edges of people making free choices–such as choosing to buy and sell child sex slaves. I judge this to be “bad.” If I can get enough people to agree with me, we can prevent people from doing this bad thing. Don’t like it, tough titties. Get more people to agree with you. Power is power, and I rather appreciate our ability to use it to prevent trafficking in child sex slaves.

          But you can dismiss that by invoking a mystical rights regime that says that’s not a legitimate type of trade because the children are human beings. But that’s jut the very beginning of regulation on trade, isn’t it?

          You yourself bring up the most problematic aspect of reality when confronting your freer-is-better theory of markets. You don’t get to choose to pollute or not pollute as if you’re the only one affected. Your individual choice is harming others. Even by your own arrangement of things, that’s not permissible. And since that requires not only regulation to address, but regulation that happens to affect the industries that underwrite libertarianism itself, you tend to simply deny the problem itself exists. Which is pathetic, of course.

          1. Without government, human trafficking and global warming would be problems! This is known.

            1. Indeed, with the existence of government today there is absolutely no trafficking of children. But there are millions of predators who would jump at the opportunity to sell children if we abolished the government. Thankfully governments stop all bad things from happening

          2. I sometimes wonder who you think you are “arguing” with. There is nothing about libertarianism that supports child slavery or for that matter supports you polluting my property. Telling people they are not allowed to buy food, or insurance, or milk or hair braiding, or taxi services without a government permission slip is something else entirely. It is of course much easier to make up fake libertarian positions to argue against than it is to support your own view that somehow it is your business to decide whether or not I am allowed to eat at a restaurant without calorie counts on the menu.

            This shtick would get a warm reception from the mouth breathers at huffpo. You can’t seriously think you are going to get anything but well deserved mockery here.

          3. “One might say the whole point of having a government is to chip off the rough edges of people making free choices–such as choosing to buy and sell child sex slaves.”

            You think legal child sex slavery is an example government respecting people’s right to make choices for themselves?!

            Child sex slaves are the ultimate example of people who are not free to make choices for themselves.

            Someone tells you that people should be free to make choices for themselves, and you point to child sex slavery as an example of free choice?

            That doesn’t even begin to compute.

            Have you ever seen libertarians argue for child sex slavery as an excellent example of people being free to make choices for themselves?

            The correct answer is “no”.

            If government has any legitimate libertarian function at all, it’s to protect our right to make choices for ourselves. That statement is the foundation of small state libertarianism.

            Yes, free markets depend on government for contract enforcement, work against fraud, against theft, and other activities that protect people’s rights. I’ve never seen any libertarian defend slavery in any form. The belief that people should be bought and sold and treated as property without any right to make choices for themselves is completely incompatible with libertarianism.

            And if you’ve been here this long and don’t already understand that, then why should anyone bother responding to you about anything?

          4. The function of government is to defend liberty.

          5. “And since that requires not only regulation to address”
            No it doesn’t, regulation isn’t required to fix anything, understanding and acknowledgement that a problem exists is required to fix something.

            There is no regulation required to understand that a fire extinguisher that doesn’t extinguish fires is shit. There is no regulation required to understand that a car the spews black fumes out the exhaust isn’t going to be a big seller.
            There is no regulation required to understand that selling uranium cookies isn’t a great idea.
            There is no regulation required to understand that selling children into slavery is reprehensible.

            Will there still be people who do shit things in an unregulated market to make a quick buck?
            Yes of coarse, but that’s where a limited government, who’s role is to maintain an even playing field and prevent the use of force against another individual (i.e selling you into slavery), comes in.
            Where perpetrators of force are punished accordingly, in the case of selling children, I would hope the punishment is death.

            1. “There is no regulation required to understand that a car the spews black fumes out the exhaust isn’t going to be a big seller.”

              And yet motorcycles that do this — and make PTSD-inducing, high-volume noise for good measure! — are big sellers and distressingly common in my part of the world.

              I am no fan of regulation, but I do wish that laws against disturbing the peace (and befouling the air) could be more vigorously enforced against the relevant aggressors.

      2. Prohibitions against child sex slavery are simple, natural human rights. Regulations are something completely different.

        Furthermore, when the US had slavery, including child slavery, that was the result of the US government violating those natural human rights.

        The idea that “regulations” are an antidote to slavery flies in the face of all historical precedent. It’s not just wrong, it is utterly deplorable for you to attempt to make such an argument.

      3. Your tautology about how the market is the market comes with a value judgment that everything that comes out of the market is good for some reason.

        The value judgment is simply that individuals ought to have a right to decide for themselves whether they want to engage in business transactions with another private party or not. That’s all. There is no value judgement about the outcomes of such a system. Such a system, for example, allows people to buy drugs and kill themselves with it. That’s not necessary a good outcome, but it is an outcome that naturally follows if you place a higher value on individual liberties than on outcomes. And that is what libertarians do, and for good reason.

  9. Discussions of markets takes me back a few years to when oil reached $140+ and gasoline was over $4 a gallon. Numerous experts predicted $500 oil and $25 gasoline. I confidently predicted they would get nowhere close to those figures, because NOBODY would or could PAY them. $140 oil (and $4.40 gasoline) was not sustainable, and therefore, the price plunged. Oil went to $28 a barrel–but that, too, was unsustainable because nobody wanted to drill or refine it for that price. Inventories dropped and the price climbed to between $40 and $55 a barrel (with gas around $2.20). All because we (the market) have agreed that that’s about right.

    1. And most of the time those wild changes are the result of government interventions not allowing markets to clear.

      1. The US government has had a military presence in the Persian Gulf for decades now, thanks to the Carter Doctrine, guaranteeing the country secure and reliable access to oil. Government intervention has been the rule, not the exception.

        1. We don’t get much oil from the ME. Ours comes from Canada, Mexico and Venezuela.

          1. You’re not familiar with the Carter Doctrine, are you? It annexed the Persian Gulf. All oil is American oil. The government spends over a trillion $US on defense every year, and you think they get nothing for it in return?

            1. It’s not a question of “thinking”, it’s a simple fact.

              And, yes, that’s why people are so pissed off: we’re spending all this money and sacrificing so many American lives in the Middle East simply so that Europe’s oil supply is secure.

              You’re beginning to understand it seems.

          2. Let’s assume you’re right?. It’s still a global commodity. If supply seriously dipped elsewhere in the world (say, by the Middle East closing for business), then folks elsewhere would start eyeing that Canadian, Mexican and Venezuelan oil, and our prices would jump too.
            ?I’m not saying you’re wrong, just that I’m not going to bother checking.

            1. Not all oil is created equally. Saudi oil is called sweet crude, noted for its lack of impurities and the relative ease to refine it. Tar sands oil from Canada or Venezuela is anything but. We would see more than price jumps if gulf oil was cut off.

  10. Oh my god you people still think your minor bong-session braingasm about the market mechanism is some kind of earth-shattering revolution in philosophy. Meanwhile predators and charlatans have been pimping out your platitudes for some very “top-down” purposes ever since they were crapped out by some of the truly lesser figures in the history of thought.

    1. I think you should try that one again in plain English

    2. The only “predator and charlatan” I see here is you, Tony.

    3. It’s not that libertarians think the “market mechanism” is some earth-shattering concept. To us the laws of economics are as simple to understand as the laws of gravity or the laws of motion.

      What’s frustrating is that politicians don’t understand this as such. Even though clearly there are laws which govern economic activity, governments everywhere still try to defeat these laws by putting price caps on goods or price floors on labor. The laws clearly define that supply will be reduced in the former and demand will be reduced in the latter, yet the government denies this fact and imposes it’s view of “reality” instead.

      It’s akin to governments declaring that everyone should jump off a bridge and not realizing that you’re going to constantly accelerate towards earth because the natural laws which govern such activity require it. Same is true with supply and demand, which is a natural law.

      1. I’m not going to defend every intrusion in to the market by politicians, but I do think that there’s an under-appreciation by libertarians of the position politicians are in.

        Imagine you’re a politician. It’s late 2007, and the housing market just collapsed, taking everything else with it. A horde of constituents confronts you, demanding to know why their house is suddenly worth 1/4th what it was last month. They’re demanding to know why their retirement savings have just evaporated. They want to know why their job is gone. Most importantly though, they want to know what YOU are going to do to help them. Would you really feel like you were doing your job well to say “downturns in the economy are a perfectly normal, even healthy part of the market cycle, and you’re just going to have to suck it up. In a few short years things will be back to normal….except for your retirement accounts. They’re just fucked. And the jobs too, they are almost definitely not coming back. Don’t worry though, globalism is the bee’s knees.”

        Even if you think that answer is approximately right from a policy perspective, it’s also horrendously cruel at the personal level. Politicians get in to politics to HELP people.

        1. Mortis, the pragmatism of politics is no reason to turn back on your fundamental principles. If you believe that markets work best without government intrusion, then that should be your principled position in the scenario you outlined. What you described above is the position that many unprincipled politicians took because on both sides of the aisle, because they can’t explain what really went wrong in the first place, and they crave power (thus the position that government can do something to help, when in fact they are the problem in the first place).

          An alternative, principled position, would be to explain to your constituents that the boom and bust cycle we are on is largely due to the Federal Reserve arbitrarily setting the price of borrowing money. That and it’s capacity as the lender of last resort (ie too big to fail), is largely the reason for the housing bubble and sub-prime mortgage crisis. Explaining a position of auditing the Fed, and potentially ending the Fed depending on the outcome of auditing would be a defensible position to your constituents about what you’re doing to help prevent this from happening again.

          1. The example given is a perfectly fine illustration of why markets don’t work best without government intervention. We used to have a much less regulated market, and we had much bigger booms and busts. Regulation (including the evil Fed) has deliberately smoothed this out so that 2008 doesn’t happen every 15 years.

            Of course you have an entire self-justifying counterfactual history to say why those tools actually caused the problem. And since we can’t even agree on basic facts of the world, this is why Trump is president.

            1. Tony, how many market crashes occurred prior to 1913? You say that the Federal Reserve is in place to smooth out market cycles, yet the 20th century was the biggest boom and bust cycle in the history of markets probably forever. You need to cite data that shows that the Federal Reserve has in fact smoothed out the market cycles, when in fact emperical data shows that the opposite is more likely the case.

              When you say “we used to have a much less regulated market,” are you saying when? Prior to 2008? Prior to 1913? Then you say that “regulation has deliberately smoothed this out so that 2008 doesn’t happen every 15 years.” The fact is that the boom and bust cycle has happened every 10-20 years since the beginning of the USA. The Fed has done very little to quiet this storm.

              “The sad truth… is that “the USD has lost more than 95% of its purcahsing power since the Fed was created and the cost of living has skyrocketed since Nixon severed the last linkage between the USD and gold in 1971.”

              I don’t understand why liberals love the Fed so much. The Fed is the embodiment of crony capitalism. Let’s let the bank run the economy? Really Tony??? Or you just like their ability to print money out of thin air and feed your government largesse?

  11. WE are the economy and they want to use us…
    all depends on intentions.. and yes we live and work in economically influenced society and we are also the part and asset of it. So, don’t take it on heart that someone is using us. We are being used since the day we were born.

  12. RE: We Are The Economy They Want to Regulate
    Strictly speaking, it’s not markets that can and should be free?it’s people.

    Blasphemy at its apex!
    The economy is what our ruling elitist turds enslaving say it is.
    When will all you coupon clippers learn this!

  13. Although I liked Richman’s article in general, I do think he provides a false bifurcation, when he says that our “only” choices for market regulation are 1) free people transacting voluntarily; and 2) governments and bureaucrats setting and enforcing the rules. There is at least one more option: 3) Private-sector gangs, which are like governments, but without the air of legitimacy. If there is a real bifurcation, then, it is between voluntary decision and action of free people, and choices and acts coerced by some outside entity (e.g., government, gangs, etc.).

    1. Monopolies are also a kind of private sector gang which inhibits free transactions.

  14. Nice article, Sheldon.

  15. Linux is a kernel, not an operating system.

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