It is not unknown for a peer of the realm to curse and blaspheme. Indeed my own recent use of expletives has not gone unnoticed, I see. Some wags and scamps have attempted to link this with the shortcomings of my physician, who in actual fact has never once hesitated to renew my prescriptions for diazepam and vicodin, whilst turning a blind eye to my predilection for poppy pod tea. So nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to my cussing. The reality is that there are certain things that even a former Cambridge Classics Don like me can only express in words of one syllable (or four letters – whichever shorter). And chief amongst these is profound disbelief. So, it should come as no surprise to readers when I pose the question, “The free market? What the fuck?”
It is not my intention here to question belief in the free market, rather belief that there is a free market… or that there ever could or will be such a thing. It seems almost laughable when one beholds the developed world to make this claim. The lion’s share of global business is conducted by a relatively small number of corporations.
These ‘multinationals’, so to speak, have been around for rather a long time, but in recent years have achieved supremacy with the latest installment of 'globalization'. They may offer society a net gain, or they might ultimately only benefit the few – i.e. wealthy businessmen and the revolving-door class of politician. That is not what I am asking here though. The real question is this: can you ever have a truly free market when these behemoths dominate the industrialized world? And can you ever have a free market when the barriers to entry for newcomers – global or otherwise - are absurdly high?
Clearly not, I would argue. For what would a free market – for better or for worse - really mean? For a start it would probably mean not destroying the opium crops of foreign farmers, it would mean allowing them to engage in whatever enterprise they wished. This is not to argue in favour of the opium trade. It is simply to say that Western governments will only ever allow a free market, free trade when it correlates with their own political and economic self interest(s).
This drugs example is obviously at the extreme end of the debate – and involves a subject close to my heart! But a truly global free market would also mean a sea change for many much loved industries and a spot of downsizing for their glorious chiefs and proprietors. Amongst them: Multinational news corporations, major computer and software providers, food manufacturers, pharmaceuticals concerns, operators of utilities, leading retailers (to name but a few). For you and me, and anyone with an ounce of entrepreneurial spirit, access to these industries right now is rather like access to the law and private education – open to everybody.
Yes, yes, yes. The World Wide Web has presented and continues to present lower barriers to entry. Many new entrants have indeed achieved success in cyberspace. But, as with all new territories, we are already seeing a consolidation of the major players. The guys from Google came from nowhere, we all know. But how free is the market in search engines nowadays? And it is not just ‘optimisation’ that the firm dominates any more. Youtube, anyone?
Furthermore many of the ‘old economy’ corporations are starting to clean up, as it is a darned sight easier to storm a new territory with resources, with a well stocked army already behind you. For a start look at who dominates the news agenda nowadays. Don’t want to mention names but… er hem… Beeb… Guardian… etc etc... Who knows? Maybe this humble blogsite will one day be a behemoth. Ho ho.
Anyway as you readers will have gathered from the outset, this post is really nothing more than an excuse to use more expletives. And so I will conclude it by saying this: When people ask me whether I believe in the free market I always respond by saying, “Free market? What the fuck's that then?”
(Is that profane enough for you, Ned?)
By guest blogger Lord Trencherman of Furmity