A Free Market Embraces Human Nature

by | Apr 3, 2024

A Free Market Embraces Human Nature

by | Apr 3, 2024

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Much like the debate around being a glass half full or half empty person, there is split opinion over whether human nature is generally good or bad. Young people are more likely to view human nature as self-serving, unsympathetic, and narrow minded than older generations. In all likelihood, future generations will view each other way more pessimistically than any recent generation before them.

The general population’s view on human nature is extremely significant in the political arena since it will have a huge impact on the ideology you assign yourself, plus the methods you choose to spread that ideology. There is a very common assumption by those that seek to critique the free market that advocates for it assume humans are angels. But when their gullibility is disproven and there is inevitable conflict, the state must get involved to temper man’s natural tendency to do bad. The potential of a more pessimistic population suggests that the scale of government interference in the lives of ordinary people is set to increase. Being a libertarian, I obviously oppose furthering an already bloated state; but what if, instead of arguing over the ethics of the government intervention in a vacuum, we suggest the free market is better at tempering the worst outcomes of humanity’s flawed nature?

I tend to think humans are generally good beings that act morally, but it is impossible to argue that we never do bad things intentionally. Those who critique the free market think that this fact destroys the system’s foundational argument. This is a misunderstanding of the true cogs that keep a free market running. Any job that you take is inherently selfish; you take it for yourself at the expense of helping others. The time you spend working for your own financial gain means that you are not directly helping somebody else. Logically, this is a selfish act; yet you would be hard pressed to find a single person who would advocate no one ever works. I point all this out to show that despite most people over the last century pursuing work for most of their daily lives, the state of humanity has progressed to a quality unforeseeable to someone alive two-hundred years ago. Why is that? The flourishing of more open markets has created vast amounts of wealth that have allowed people to escape a point of needing to work all the time.

Even if you argue that free markets are inherently bad, it is undeniable that some degree of a free market has been hugely beneficial for mankind. Every single time that a nation has undertaken measures to open their markets, we have witnessed a huge growth in living standards. There is clearly a link between free markets and prosperity. China, India, Russia, and many other nations that once had very centrally planned economies have embraced (to varying degrees) free market ideas and they have experienced huge advancements in their quality of life. So, despite individuals working for themselves, they have indirectly been helping each other.

It begins when someone has an idea and executes it, anything that’s valuable to lots of other individuals, and makes the original executor wealthier. If people value what is being offered, they buy it; the company expands, more people are hired, and the cycle continues improving the lives of others. This all started from self-interest and is fueled by lots of others being self-interested. Self-interest, to a healthy extent, has driven up the quality of life of millions of people. Any disruption to that delicate process will lead to a slowdown in the progress already made by humanity, sometimes even a backtrack. We are seeing this everywhere governments impose unnecessary regulations that burden people with huge costs and prevent them from tacitly helping others as well as themselves.

I can already hear the critique of progressives: “Free markets without regulation will mean shopkeepers will sell anything they want to people, even if they are dangerous.” There are many great counterarguments, but instead of outlining them all I will focus on just one.  Libertarians are staunch believers in natural rights i.e., we strongly believe an individual has a right to be free from unjustified harm and violence; since you have a right to self-ownership, if one person harms another then they are violating that right. In a libertarian society, those who are harmed by someone else without justification would have every right to go to court and sue for damages. The courts would not be backlogged like they are now, since any law that stops an action that does not infringe on somebody else or their property would be abolished. There is an incredibly powerful incentive in a fully free market society not to harm others with a product or service you sell because the potential for consequences in court are far greater than they are right now. Before you can sell enough of your product or service to break even financially, which we know is a very long time for a new business, you will be in court facing a demand to know why you harmed someone else. That is without considering that word will spread fast that your product is harming people and the implications that has. Logically, there is zero reason for anyone to intentionally sell harmful substances to others in a free market with a libertarian legal system. That is not to say it is impossible, or is entirely unrealistic, but it will be minimized.

Human nature is flawed, there is no denying that. All ideologies want a better quality of life, but only libertarian principles can properly deliver that. The free market, combined with a libertarian legal system, is the best harnesser of the great bounties human nature can provide us all. We need to let it do its work instead of lumping burden after burden on it for illogical reasons.

Furthermore, I would posit that progressives lean towards believing most individuals are caring, supportive, and altruistic, whilst only a few intentionally seek to harm others. In effect, we are debating about how to deal with very few people. The libertarian solution pre-empts these issues without impacting the majority negatively, whilst the state solution progressives advocate does impose needless burden on the many. We should come together, recognise we have common ground in believing in the virtuous nature of mankind, and go forward seeking a solution to deal with the flaws whilst respecting the virtuous. The libertarian system does that; can others truly say the same?

About Owen Ashworth

Owen Ashworth is British political commentator who writes reguarly at his Substack "Libertarian Living in the UK."

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