The free market is the means to wealth and prosperity for the masses. The non-free market is the means to wealth and prosperity for the privileged and well-connected. In a world controlled by government and its cronies, why would anyone expect a free market to exist?
What is left of the free market is not enough to sustain our current standard of living. In an attempt to do so, people and governments took on debt. This debt enabled us to live beyond what our incomes could support. Now, with incomes falling, we must reduce our standard of living to reflect this drop. Furthermore, we must reduce it even further to pay down the debt we took on. Just as incomes are shrinking, consumption must shrink even more. The negative savings of the past must be made up for in the present and the future.
Each and every governmental intervention diminishes freedom and wealth. That does not mean that an intervention doesn’t improve the lot of some. All interventions have constituencies (beneficiaries) or they would not occur. While some may benefit, the average man is harmed. That is, all interventions are less than zero-sum games.
Sheldon Richman describes our current state:
What we have—and have had for a long time—is corporatism, an interventionist system shot through with government-granted privileges mostly for the well-connected–who tend to be rich businesspeople. This system is maintained in a variety of ways: through taxes, subsidies, cartelizing regulations, intellectual “property” protections, trade restrictions, government-bank collusion, the military-industrial complex, land close-offs, zoning, building codes, restrictions on workers, and more. As a result, people can get rich at the expense of the government’s victims. Even some who have prospered apparently by market means have actually done so through government intervention, such as transportation subsidies and eminent domain. Wealth can be transferred in many ways besides welfare and Medicaid, some of them quite subtle. Most transfers are upward.
The free market is routinely condemned by people who have never seen one. Nor can they even imagine how one might work. Yet they routinely attack the status quo as if it represented a free market, blaming it for all economic and social ills. To remedy the perceived problems, they propose remedies that remove even more freedom. Nothing could be more misguided. Yet this belief produce continuing attacks on what little freedom is left.
Those who have concerned themselves exclusively with what seemed practicable in the existing state of opinion have constantly found that even this has rapidly become politically impossible as the result of changes in a public opinion which they have done nothing to guide. Unless we can make the philosophic foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue, and its implementation a task which challenges the ingenuity and imagination of our liveliest minds, the prospects of freedom are indeed dark. But if we can regain that belief in power of ideas which was the mark of liberalism at its best, the battle is not lost.
Hayek expressed his thoughts on this process more than six decades ago. When he made his observations, freedom had not deteriorated nearly to the point it has today. Sadly, its rate of disappearance is accelerating and with it the American way of life and a standard of living that once was the envy of the world.
To my knowledge, no country has ever reversed this process. Certainly no country has ever prospered continuing down this road to serfdom.