- - Tuesday, December 31, 2013


It’s the first day of 2014. This is the time when newspaper columnists, media pundits and policy wonks dust off their crystal balls and transform themselves into political and economic prognosticators.

Some of their predictions for the coming year will be well off the mark. A few will turn out to be surprisingly accurate.

Far be it from me to reject such an inviting opportunity to resemble a soothsayer — or a false prophet. Hence, my prediction is that popular support for the free market will make a huge comeback in 2014.

I’m obviously not suggesting the free-market economy has either disappeared or dissipated in Western democratic societies. Far from it. Capitalism, private enterprise and trade liberalization all still exist to varying degrees, depending on a particular country’s economic standards and its government’s policy positions.

Yet ever since the subprime mortgage crisis tore apart the U.S. economy in 2008, wider support for free-market ideology has significantly dropped. What we’ve seen instead is a surge in the resentment of global capitalism on two vastly different levels.

First, the radical left — a cobbling of extreme socialists, neo-Marxists, anarchists and other fringe groups — attempted to shackle the free market and its defenders. The Occupy Wall Street movement was its primary vehicle to oppose large corporate institutions, “greedy” bankers and financiers, and perceived corruption in global finance. More to the point, they attempted to divide the world into an “us vs. them-type scenario by railing against the wealthy, or 1 percent of our society.

Second, the intellectual-citizen base — including moderate socialists, liberals, a small handful of libertarians and conservatives, and many apolitical individuals — expressed their displeasure with the free-market system. For example, they resented the huge bonuses that senior executives were regularly taking in an economic downturn. They perceived that banks and other financial institutions existed in their own little bubbles in terms of day-to-day operations. Like the radical left, they were tired of perceived greed and corruption controlling the free-market economy.

Both groups were successful self-promoters for a spell. Quite a number of people sided with some or all of their positions. The media noticed, and reported events on a regular basis. The Occupy movement’s slogan, “We are the 99 percent,” resonated in many U.S. states — and created similar protests around the world.

Today, many Americans still don’t completely trust the free market. They trust capitalists even less. Yet the intense anger and resentment from several years ago has dramatically subsided.

This is the first important sign for free-market supporters that the tide may finally be turning. As well, the free market’s positive virtues may have a real chance of regaining much of its lost momentum in 2014.

Here are some ways that capitalists can recapture their mojo (so to speak) and make the free market a powerful force in our society once more.

First, let’s start being honest about the true nature of economic history. While the political left likes to leave the impression that we exist in a state of unfettered capitalism, nothing could be further from the truth. Capitalism exists, and has always existed, in an environment of state regulations and fairly restrictive financial control. Hence, the free market isn’t truly “free.” So, while some capitalists acted irresponsibly in the past, they don’t reflect the behavior of most honest, decent capitalists across the globe.

Second, capitalism built the U.S. into an economic powerhouse. It wasn’t created by the peace-love-and-harmony crowd who wore rose-colored glasses and complained about “the Man.” Rather, it was devised by intelligent individuals who realized the country could benefit through free trade, international commerce and, yes, Wall Street. It would be wise for free-market critics to starting re-examining how the United States built itself up from a new nation into a thriving marketplace of ideas and financial success.

Third, private enterprise and personal freedom must remain important principles now and in the future. The late economist Milton Friedman once said, “The only way that has ever been discovered to have a lot of people cooperate together voluntarily is through the free market. And that’s why it’s so essential to preserving individual freedom.”

Contrary to the left’s position, these are the ties that bind us — rather than separate us. It’s therefore up to capitalists from all walks of life to make the important case that we need to have more faith in the free market.

Will my prediction for a revitalized free market come true? Stay tuned.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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