"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance"

--James Madison--

"The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries, but between authoritarians and libertarians"

--George Orwell--

The Illusion Of "Free Markets"

One of the most frequent cries from the libertarian right is that government interferes with, and even prevents, the existence of free markets.  Taxes, government regulations and other statutory burdens keep America uncompetitive.  Never mind the fact that we have lower taxes and fewer and more lax regulations than almost any other developed country.

This is one of the places where libertarianism truly breaks down. There have never been, in the entire history of mankind, any such thing as free markets. The very term itself is illusory.

During times of little to no government interference (rare in history, because governments always want their tax, don't they?), the markets cease being free rather quickly. Collusion, trusts, monopolies...these form quickly and stifle competition more severely than any sort of government action other than nationalization.
Are markets that are dominated and controlled by a few large players really free? 

Look at business sectors where government interference is almost nil. Just try to start a health insurance company right now. It took a few decades, but a trust has formed that makes it almost impossible to compete with the big six. There are a lot of brand names out there, but almost all of them (except for a few regional or single state carriers whose own days are likely numbered) are actually owned by one of the big companies.

None of this has a damn thing to do with last year's health insurance bill, either. Or even state regulations, which are pretty lax in most jurisdictions, with little enforcement. The law that exempted health insurers from antitrust actions (the McCarran Ferguson Act) was passed in 1945. It's really quite impressive that it took this long to get to this point. But the "free markets" can only take so much pressure.

Nuclear power was recently cited to me, but it seems an odd target, given that coal, natural gas and oil get billions more in subsidies every year. Fossil fuel extraction and electricity production get lots of local and state subsidies in addition to Federal subsidies. Nuclear gets very little of this.  But the energy industry sucks at the government teat with more gusto than any other industry.  Why do they need these subsidies at all?  They get the most tax breaks, and relatively little government interference in their operations.

GE is a good example of a company that might never have existed in the first place without government provided infrastructure. How many roads have they built, how many water utilities do they own, how many miles of sewer pipe have they laid?  Today, their bottom line is shored up by tax breaks directed at the energy industry and manufacturing.  Their biggest customers are governments.  The semiconductors that are responsible for the existence of most of their products were first invented by a project that they conducted mostly at the expense of the US Federal government.

There is a reason that private business rarely ever builds or establishes these things. They're usually not profitable. Even companies that operate toll roads or public utilities are almost always government subsidized in some form or other.

There would still be safety razors even if King Gillette didn't get his generous government contract, but it's unlikely that you would ever even have heard of the brand name Gillette unless you were a collector. Still, the military was already working on the new steel stamping techniques, and they shared it for free with other companies as well.

There are easily hundreds of companies in this country that wouldn't likely be in business without the US military or other governments ands governmental entities as their biggest customers. Lockheed Martin and Parker Hannifin come to mind immediately.

So, where are these true free markets that operate without collusion between the bigger players, without government interference, and without government provided or subsidized infrastructure? When were there ever, except for isolated agrarian societies that conducted no trade? I want to know. Maybe I'll start a business in this magical place.

Believe it or not, I don't like paying taxes either.