What Does it Mean to Be Against Free Markets?

What do the Wall Street protesters want? According to a survey of 200 protesters encamped in New York’s Zuccotti Park and reported by pollster Doug Schoen in The Wall Street Journal: “What binds a large majority of the protesters together—regardless of age, socioeconomic status or education—is…opposition to free-market capitalism…”

So we know that they are opposed to the free market. But what does that mean, exactly?

Obviously they are not opposed to “markets” as such, because that would be tantamount to being against human economic activity of almost any kind — as long as homo sapiens has existed, he has traded with others of his kind. Plus, I see a lot of laptops and smartphones being used and shared among the throngs of protesters, so I know they are not opposed to all markets in principle.

Fine, so it appears that the modifier “free” is offending word here. A free market is one in which people are allowed to trade with one another at their own discretion for mutual benefit without interference from a third party. So the protesters are against this: They want a third party — specifically, the government — to have the power to control the how, when, and who of our economic transactions.

So let us be clear: The protesters are against the “free” part of free markets, and are therefore, in a very real sense, against freedom itself. Or at least they are in theory. But if a sufficiently totalitarian government took hold in America, and told them what kind of computers they could buy and when, what kind of food they could eat and when, what kind of clothes they could wear and why, do you think they would really accept this in practice?

Doubt it. As the sage Yogi Berra is reported to have said, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”