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Nor Does the Free Market Read Shakespeare

Here’s a letter to Compact:


Decrying the trade-offs that economic reality requires be made by people who start or grow families, Robert Orr complains that “[t]he free market doesn’t care about your family” (“The Free Market Doesn’t Care About Your Family,” August 16).

With due respect, this complaint is inane. The free market is simply the process of commercial exchanges and other voluntary interactions that occurs when government leaves adults unimpeded to engage peacefully with each other. Not being sentient, the free market not only doesn’t care about your family, it cannot possibly do so. A complaint such as Mr. Orr’s makes no more sense than complaining that English grammar or the Mississippi river doesn’t care about your family.

However, the free market does – especially but not only by increasing our material prosperity – enhance the ability of each of us to successfully care for our families. Mr. Orr is free to dispute this claim. It is, after all, an empirical one, and so is perhaps incorrect. But even Mr. Orr cannot seriously dispute a second claim about families made by those whom he smears as “libertarian ideologues,” which is this: Rather than socialize and politicize – and, hence, dilute and distort – responsibility for the care of the family, the free market concentrates responsibility for the care of each family on those persons – namely, parents and grandparents – who are in the best position to know, and who care most deeply about, the family’s needs and opportunities.

So, yes, the free market indeed doesn’t care about your family. In a free society, such caring is, as it ought to be, your responsibility. And you, as a decent husband, wife, or parent, should loathe having matters otherwise, for with responsibility comes authority – and no reasonable person wants his or her authority as a family member diluted, circumvented, or obstructed by politicians or bureaucrats.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030