The Quick & Dirty: The Free Market, a Good Excuse Until It’s Not

Attendees hold signs supporting the free market at a Tea Party rally in Albuquerque, N.M. in 2009.
Attendees hold signs supporting the free market at a Tea Party rally in Albuquerque, N.M. in 2009.

Looks like hip new disrupter of motor vehicles, Tesla, is running into a few problems selling those silent vehicles of tomorrow. You would swear they are silent killers the way the motor vehicle dealers are complaining and moaning about Tesla selling their cars directly to those who want to bypass the good old carbon-coughing combustion engine. Five states have banned Tesla selling directly to the consumer – New Jersey being the latest. Christie decided to stop Tesla like traffic trying to cross a bridge…

But I’m not here to talk about Tesla. I want one but can’t afford one even though the company has a location literally just down the road from where I live, and no, they are not a client so I have no skin in this game. But I am having issues with the fake free market advocates.

The myth of the “free market”… So often business and its sidekick the business association use the free market as their defense against any threat of government regulations or anyone talking about the need for companies to focus a wee bit on sustainability or CSR or, the hot new favorite, shared value. Please, the concept of the “free market” is as big a lie as the urban myth that Mr. Rogers was a Navy Seal. Or that the check is in the mail. Or the Cubs winning the World Series next year. Or any year.

Companies use this idea of the free market when it suits them. But it is nothing but a nice idea that doesn’t exist in the real world. If markets were truly free we wouldn’t have all the subsidies, incentives, trade protection etc that so many companies benefit from or lobby for in some way.

Oil companies get subsidies. Agricultural companies get subsidies. Almost everything over in the U.S. is paid for by the consumer – twice. First some of their taxes go to those companies who then charge them for those same products that they helped subsidize. A bit of a swindle if you ask me as it creates the idea that goods are cheaper than what they really are. No they are not. They are damn expensive because you pay twice.

Do companies seriously want to hide behind the free market? Then give back your subsidy. Drop the demands for more favorable trade rules. Or be honest and transparent and accept that your business is about making money within a set of rules. Live with it even when all those rules don’t slap you on the back and give you money.

Or own up and let’s compete on a level playing field. Then Tesla will kick your butt. African farmers will dance circles around you. And everyone else will point and laugh at your attempt to play it straight.

But if you want to go down the road of asking for protection and subsidies, then live with the fact that we will ask you to be responsible and sustainable because we pay for you – twice. We own a little bit of you. And because we know so many of you speak in tongues we don’t understand, we will polity ask and then demand before we force regulations on you to be honest, open and transparent about what you do and how you spend all that money that comes from us to you – twice. So put up those GMO labels. Control your emissions. Pay fair wages. And don’t try to sell us snake oil.

So the next time you see businesses cry foul about the “free market” – please think again. It’s a myth and an excuse. Own up or else let Tesla sell to whoever the hell they want. Or maybe it is time for Mr. Rogers, the Navy SEAL, to come visit you. If he was still around. But he is missing. Like the free market.

Image credit: Flickr/Kevin Copps

Henk Campher

A series of quick & dirty opinion pieces by Henk Campher out in the Wild West of San Francisco. Disrupter of purpose. Engineer of big ideas. Slayer of myths. Social media junkie - @angryafrican. He never wears ties. Ever. But always wears an accent with a strategy and opinion in his back pocket. Please note this series will not focus on individual companies and any reference is purely to provide color commentary. He wrote a book once.

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