Demonizing the market is the new acceptable prejudice. From the pulpit and the chairs of academia to the barbershop and the soup kitchen, markets are treated as if they are evil concoctions based on the disvalue of greed. People often speak of market values as if these values were different from the values that any decent person ought to cultivate elsewhere.

This is nonsense. In effect, the market is nothing more than a place of exchange where free individuals associate voluntarily to advance common goals. To pursue my self-interest in the market means to go after what I value, whatever is important to me. The market is an important element of any healthy and free civic project. Pluralism characterizes Capitalism as no comprehensive religious or philosophical system is imposed from above. As much as the free economy decries top-down, command economies, it deplores top-down, commanded values.

But what is a value anyway?  It is a good that offers to me the pull of an internal command. I move myself by conviction to live a life according to it. But that is exactly what the market does, move individuals to pursue what they desire in free exchange with others.

What are these values having no place in the market? They do not exist. As Capitalism is based on whatever a person values so much to freely pursue, there are no values having no place in the market, as long as the actors are left free to pursue them. If I value more entering a convent and praying for the rest of my life, that is self-interest. If I decide to give my life to the poor, working with them and loving them, I am pursuing my self-interest.

As the main characteristic of markets is free exchange, giving to charity or entering a convent is a market phenomenon inasmuch as I have decided freely to engage in a certain behavior by making a trade-off. Now, if there is any value that is not adhered to by the individual by an act of free choice, then it is an imposition. A Christian, for example, values certain truths and ought to have a space to pursue his ideas and offer them to others. He must however resist the controlling temptation of commanding society from above. He must try to resist the temptation while freely “selling” his ideas to others.

Now, what many decry is the appearance of certain evils in the marketplace. But I ask, where do these evils do not appear?  Is there no greed in the chairs of academia?  Are there no greedy clergymen? Are the members of socialist parties not greedy people?

What those who decry capitalism want is to find a system where greed is tamed by way of limiting freedom. By identifying the market as if it were a value, they miss the source of that evil: the human heart. The market, of course, is simply a place of exchange but they insist that it is the same as greed. Thus, they want to place obstacles to freedom in economic exchange and replace freedom with state power. The state ought to become the instrument of eliminating greed and replacing it with “justice.” Again, we can go into a merry-go-round about what is justice.

In the end, what is left after freedoms are eliminated is raw power. I have power to impose my values over you because I am enlightened and you are not. Good luck with that…

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