The Moral Case for the Free Market
By Gabrielle TEmaat
There has always been skepticism toward the free market among some cultural conservatives, and the arguments they present in opposition of the free market are not without merit. However, no economic system is perfect, and conservatives can recognize and combat the flaws of capitalism while embracing it as the most moral economic structure.
The free market has relieved millions of people from poverty and is historically the only economic system to have done so. Conservatives can embrace the free market for practical and prudential reasons, but more importantly, for moral reasons. The free market is the most moral economic system because it best honors and accounts for human nature.
First, we must share a common definition of the free market if we are to discuss it meaningfully. A free market is a complex system of voluntary exchanges in which consumers have a wide range of choices and competition reigns among firms. Government regulations can exist within a free market, but they are limited and only implemented when necessary.
The traditional conservative defense for the free market as outlined by Edmund Burke emphasizes prudence, insists that communities and private institutions remain free to address local problems, and claims that government should exercise only its core functions. Most importantly, Burke believed economies needed to be rooted in certain truths about the human person, namely his inherent dignity, which utopians and romanticists tend to ignore. The free market is the only economic system that upholds the dignity of the human person and reinforces the dignity of work.
Burke also believed that the more the federal government involves itself in local affairs, the less it is focused on carrying out its primary responsibilities. The local community and local charities understand the issues that face their neighbors better than the federal government does, and they can therefore combat those issues more effectively.
Further, caring for the poor and suffering is primarily the duty of the individual and the community, not the government. We must cultivate a society in which charity involves fostering meaningful relationships rather than sending a check to the government. Freedom is not an end in itself, but a means to an end- that end being virtue.
Gabrielle Temaat is a senior at Arizona State University studying economics. She is currently working as a writing tutor at ASU and a communications intern at the Acton Institute.