The Voluntary Life: 88 Why I Feared The Free Market

17 December 2012

88 Why I Feared The Free Market

Some thoughts on what it is that frightens people about the free market, based on my own experience of what frightened me. The fear of the market is often expressed in very abstract arguments about whether free markets would really work (if we had them) and what their relationship is to poverty etc. However,  at an individual level, I believe people fear markets because of how vulnerable you can feel when taking part in voluntary exchange:

  • Trade on the free market involves selling to others. This opens you up to the potential for rejection and failure, which can be scary.
  • The division of labour involves choosing to specialise in some skill or area of work that might one day become obsolete, which can feel vulnerable. It also involves taking responsibility for specific outcomes- the buck stops with you- which challenges any defences against the fear of responsibility. 
  • Respect for private property rights involves looking after your stuff and respecting other people's stuff. This opens you up to the potential for feelings of humiliation if you don't understand how or why others have made a success of selling when you have not yet been able to.

It's understandable to fear the free market. It can be scary to launch yourself into entrepreneurship, as well as being wonderful. However, some people project their personal fears of the market into abstract theories: they blame the market itself for the world's ills. That approach will prevent you from overcoming your fears and limit your potential.

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