Market fundamentalism: A Silly and Deadly Ideology. An Interview with Carl Wimmer

I’m no economist, but I can recognize silly economic philosophies when I see them.  One that I keep running into is that of market fundamentalism, which in the current crazy climate, seems to be frequently rearing its head.

Market fundamentalism is the notion that the free market, unfettered by regulation or other interference, is the only way to go to solve all of our problems, economic or otherwise.

I actually didn’t realize they even had a name for it when I ran into Utah State Representative Carl Wimmer last year. At the time, he was successfully pushing his bill which was trying to make sure that Utahns wouldn’t benefit from federal health care reform legislation.

I was doing my first (and only) official lobbying at the state capitol building, when who did I somehow run into but Carl Wimmer, the guy who had put forth the bill we were complaining about (namely that the Utah legislature would have to approve implementation of federal health care reform – ha ha).  He was kind enough to engage in a discussion that revealed his market fundamentalism, it went something like this:

Me: “So your website says you think deregulation of the health insurance market will solve our health care problems, is that right?”

CW: “Yes, and if we could just sell insurance across state lines, that would really help things.”

Me: “But what about my patients with preexisting conditions, don’t you think some regulation that mandates fair policies for them is necessary, otherwise they’re uninsurable!”

CW: “Well, no one ever died from lack of insurance, all they have to do is go to the ER and they’ll get care.”

Me: “Oh, yes they do die from lack of insurance, if they don’t get the preventive care they need, they may show up at the ER, but often they do so while dying.  I’ve got a lady who only ever shows up at the ER, near death, luckily not yet dead, but she wouldn’t be showing up there if she’d come in for regular visits and labs and treatment, but she doesn’t show up for fear of the costs of these things.”

CW: “Well that’s the beauty of a market based solution, once we deregulate and sell insurance across state lines, some enterprising insurance executive is going to be the one to say to himself ‘I’ll tap into that huge pool of sick patients'”.

Me: “What insurance company executive would be dumb enough to try to insure patients who are already sick, if they could avoid it?  Why offer an affordable policy to someone who may cost your business tens of thousands of dollars per year in medical care?”

CW: “Well, maybe you have a point on preexisting conditions.”

Me: Proceed to explain how the rest of HCR falls into place from that..blah blah blah.

CW: “Gotta go” gives speech, passes bill.

As you can see from above, it’s hard to defend this silly ideology, but it does provide a framework to give politicians policy ideas that can be quite deadly, if implemented.

What is quite frightening is that several figures who may soon be in control of future federal policy as potential US Senators have the same silly, deadly, ideology:

Rand Paul:

The bottom line is: I’m not an expert, so don’t give me the power in Washington to be making rules,” Paul said at a recent campaign stop in response to questions about April’s deadly mining explosion in West Virginia…”You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You’d try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don’t, I’m thinking that no one will apply for those jobs.

To a market fundamentalist, the unfettered market will take care of things, if coal owners and local officials make sloppy rules that don’t really protect workers (as they did when thousands of miners per year died) then the market will ensure that less miners will apply for those jobs, and everything will be fine.  If a few thousand die because they can’t find other jobs, it will be worth it, these fundamentalists might even consider them “defenders of liberty”.

Sharron Angle:

QUESTION: You have been in support of onshore drilling in the United States as well as offshore drilling, are you rethinking that policy with what is going on in Louisiana?

ANGLE: No. I think that what happened in Louisiana was an accident. They’re cleaning it up. We need to go forward and talk about prevention and not about whether we keep it out all together. We know that lot of the problems that have been caused for us with foreign policy and even with our own gas prices here domestically going up is our dependence upon foreign oil.

We have oil reserves and petroleum reserves that we should tap into. And that’s a policy that we really need to look at as a nation. How do we deregulate enough to invite our industries to come back into the United States and quit outsourcing their business?

Of course, in the wake of a deadly and environmentally disastrous oil spill, where deregulation has been implicated as a causal factor, more deregulation is the answer when you’re a market fundamentalist.

Joe Miller:

But yeah — ultimately, we’ve got to transition out of the Social Security arrangement and go into more of a privatization.

The market will make for better retirements for everyone.  It doesn’t make sense to have a retirement insurance plan that is independent from the all-knowing, never failing, free market.  Why did we come up with this plan in the first place?  Well, at least if we all had private retirement plans they’d be safer than some socialistic government scheme, since the market never falters.

Unfortunately, of course, this season has brought many other market fundamentalists out of the woodwork and near to power: Marco Rubio, Ken Buck, Christine O’Donnell, Jim Toomey, and Utah’s own Mike Lee to name a few.

I think that any fundamentalist ideology (if defined as strict adherence to principles even in the presence of contrary evidence) is inherently dangerous, and why humans hold to fundamentalist views is a very interesting discussion meriting another diary.  I just hope these current market fundamentalists are exposed enough to be voted down by rational voters.

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  1. #1 by Richard Warnick on September 21, 2010 - 9:16 am

    Thanks for giving Carl Wimmer a dose of reality. There are a lot of good things about the free market, but let’s face it, there is no free market in health insurance. That industry is effectively monopolized.

    “Selling insurance across state lines” is Republican-speak for a race to the bottom. According to the GOP plan, the loosest state regulations would apply across the board, defeating the efforts of more responsible state governments to offer consumer protection or restrictions on rate increases. And they would count the Mariana Islands as a state!

    The right is so good at using fear. For example, last year they were shrieking about “death panels,” that were really a program to pay for voluntary consultations (ironically, legislation that originated with Republicans).

    Meanwhile, in reality, the insurance companies continue to condemn Americans to death. Last year, a Harvard Medical School study concluded that lack of insurance or loss of insurance causes 45,000 premature deaths a year. Imagine if al-Qaeda crashed 242 fully-loaded Boeing 757s every year!

    If progressives knew how to incite fear, we would make people afraid of actual instead of imaginary evildoers.

  2. #2 by Dwight Sheldon Adams on September 21, 2010 - 9:56 am

    Market Fundamentalism. My favorite ridiculous concept in the American political mainstream. And my favorite product of it: the argument that the free market should have been allowed to solve the slavery problem instead of the Civil War. Apparently, as keeping black slaves became less and less profitable (supposing it actually arrived at a point where it was less profitable than hiring them for wages), an awareness of their human rights would naturally come about. The market wins again! And, as always, the world and all of God’s blessed children win along with it.

    Let’s let the market solve the crisis between the Western world and the Middle-East; let’s let it solve the BP crisis and the potential for crises in the future; let’s let it solve the damage of hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods. After all, you know that if there’s a demand for emergency response, the victims will pony up the dough to grease the market’s wheels and get that machine a-goin’! Of course, what with being victims and all, I wonder if they’ll have enough dough left to make the rescue profitable. . .and, after that, to rebuild. . .oh well. It’s not our concern. Market magic will solve that problem, too.

    Dwight Sheldon Adams

  3. #3 by Dwight Sheldon Adams on September 21, 2010 - 10:00 am

    . . .will solve that problem, too, and in the most efficient, desirable way.

    Just a little addendum, there.

  4. #4 by Gary Kunkel on September 21, 2010 - 1:03 pm

    Dwight, the market magic cant’ be stopped, it can only be contained by socialistic regulations!

    Richard, you said

    If progressives knew how to incite fear, we would make people afraid of actual instead of imaginary evildoers.

    That is a very telling statement, I think the problem with fundamentalists (and their advantage), is that they believe their truth 100% (IMO from an impressive capacity to delude themselves) – when you believe you have absolute truth to the core, it’s very easy to angrily shout deluded untruths (because they must be true if your fundamentalist belief is also to be true). And when you have really deluded yourself into believing your untruths, it looks compelling and passionate, therefore it makes for very effective fearmongering!

    If only progressives could stop being so willing to consider other angles to the argument, to consider the empirical data for and against, we’d fearmonger more effectively, but if so then we’d be fundamentalists and probably wouldn’t really be progressive…

  5. #5 by brewski on September 21, 2010 - 5:27 pm

    DSA,

    Let’s be clear, there is and never was anything ever free-market about slavery. Slavery was created by governments who enforced and supported the ownership of human beings.

    Quite explicitly by definition, free markets are where people get to make decisions about what to buy and sell (including their own labor freely. You know, freely, as in not being compelled by someone else. So there is no way you can use the word “free-market” and “slavery” in the same sentence unless you also use the word “ridiculous”.

    So as funny as you think it is, free markets would solve slavery since slavery can only exist when governments enforce the lack of freedom.

  6. #6 by Dwight Sheldon Adams on September 21, 2010 - 10:09 pm

    Brewski–

    Nice to talk to you again, too. Hope you have patience. I haven’t shredded your words in a while. Oh—and feel free to complicate your statement if you wish. It needs a little more umph.

    So here we have the binary dichotomy: freedom vs. slavery. The two can’t coexist; one member of the master class of words, one of the servant class.

    Of course, that’s only the words. The words exist as a binary dichotomy in your mind. It doesn’t mean that what in the physical world we assign those words to doesn’t actually fulfill one, the other, or both of the positions that those words fundamentally represent.

    Take “free market,” for instance. What makes it “free” to you is the word “free” in the title and the imminent incorruptibility of the perfect vision of it you harbor in your brain. Your version of the “free market” seems to redefine itself according to a simple rule: If it isn’t free, it can’t be a product of or a factor of any version of the free market. This allows you to conveniently support the “free market” as a concept without implicating any actual constructs–and without actually meaning anything with your support. It’s like saying I support socialism and then ascribing all of human’s failures to a category which could be described as NOT-socialism—which, in reality, is actually just the collection of things I don’t want to accept responsibility for or account for in my vague and never-to-be-realized-and-therefore-imminently-safe-from-criticism ideology. Also, it’s strikingly similar to the conception of God: faultless, impervious, to the point that no evil may be ascribed to Him—and so we define our reality around that preconception. Ironic that you post your comment on a page about Free Market Fundamentalism. Appropriate.

    The “free market,” by your terms, is an impossibility, because it will never exist until people stop being people. There is therefore no purpose in discussing it in your terms except a merely academic purpose. I’m willing to discuss it on those grounds as long as you are, but not as long as you insist on relating YOUR “free market” to reality.

    So what is it exactly that is meant when folks like you say that the free market could have solved slavery? If you notice, I didn’t say once in this post that slavery was a free-market problem, yet you resolved to tackle an argument that wasn’t made. Typical Brewski, or simple misconstruement of my argument? Your behavior will prove one way or the other.

    So I repeat: what is meant? If Lincoln had not only NOT refused the Confederacy their right to separate, but had also broken up all corporations and established a system of equal land access (excluding the not-yet-freed slaves, of course), then the free market would naturally have made dominating other people less profitable (except that wages for free people are either higher, the same, or too little to survive), and the solution would have emerged.

    I don’t think you believe that, of course. Your argument is incredibly more simple: If the Hope Diamond was flawless, it wouldn’t fracture so easily. Sort of like how if we forget the sins of the forefathers they can stand up as deities just the way we want.

    Now, let’s try a thought experiment; let’s try two things:

    1) To imagine any possible way that slavery could come about WITHOUT government involvement.

    2) To imagine how government, as defined by certain permutations of human’s all-too-repetitive history, might have been actually more accurately defined by what constitutes modern corporatist capitalism—and that therefore “government,” another binary-dichotomy word, may actually have multiple definitions—some of which are more described by economic power than political power, or at least that the second is a child of the first.

    Thought experiments concluded, let’s realize something: First, that the repudiation of slavery on a political level was a political refutation of an economic and cultural concept, and not of a political one. Second, that the responsibility for the institution of slavery exists and perpetuates according to a desire to dominate and the power to do so and that the only thing that manages that desire is, on the one hand, cultural development, and on the other, the prohibition of said behaviors by a more powerful body—typically, government or society, depending on which possesses the greater governing power.

    So the question, Brewski, is: is there any relevance in a modern context to governments being in some cases the advocates, defenders, or originators of slavery? Some, sure. But as much as you give it? Brewski, the modern corporate mind is more akin to the slavers of the past than the modern governmental mind. Is our government controlling? You betcha. But across the board in almost all cases, according to one’s merits and actions, not according to one’s preconditions which one may not defy without sacrificing one’s self. The slavery principle is a principle of dividing the weak from the powerful and then exerting power to its maximum potential. Subjugation, Brewski, not merely political disagreements or ideological conflict. Slaves have no party to take over and speak for them every other quadrennium.

    I hope I don’t have to describe corporate culture and the absolute lack of control within the market for the vast majority of the populace for you to perceive the difference. Even within your fabled “free market,” once land runs out and resources get filtered down to more and more powerful hands, that same dynamic of superior power over inferior power would emerge, attenuate, and snap—the sound of freedom being stretched to the limit. Unless, of course, a government exists with the power to restrict that filtering down. . .but that’s force, and slavery. Better to allow chaos to create its pockets of dominating order. It’s the free market, after all—so it must, inherently, be free.

    Your argument is circular, Brewski. “Free markets solve slavery because slavery isn’t free and free markets are.” I understand: the ideal (whatever term we choose to describe it) exists as the exclusion of the non-ideal. The ideal can’t have the non-ideal because it’s the ideal. Like how a man can’t be a woman because he’s a man. Then we start questioning what that could possibly mean about culture, gender roles, etc.—except that some people never delve that deeply. They just maintain an impossible image of “man” in their mind and live alongside delusions and prejudgments instead of actual people.

    Interestingly, Brewski, slave trafficking occurs outside of government regulation and in spite of its attempts to end it—in the black market, what some have described as the purest, freeest market—the means by which the free citizen asserts his economic rights. Strange how power, control, and force can emerge outside of government. The sovereign government isn’t helping or sanctioning forced labor in the U.S., is it? But I thought that “slavery can only exist when governments enforce the lack of freedom.” Come on, Brew. It’s when government steps in and prohibits slavery, not when it doesn’t protect ownership of humans (as if slavery is the ownership of government and not merely one of many dynamics of tribalism), that slavery ends. Or, of course, when a culture evolves to a higher state of human respect and equality.

    Now, just for some fun, I’m going to compose a sentence using “free-market,” “slavery,” and “ridiculous”:

    Short of asking for a government definition, prohibition, and adequate enforcement, it would be ridiculous to assume that the free-market could solve the problem of slavery; therefore, government definition of and protection of the rights of individuals within a market is the only means by which a free-market may be established.

    Uh, oh. I just realized something. If the free market requires any intervention whatsoever in order to be free, the ideal suddenly becomes human—it’s subject to error, just like people are; it requires a definition of terms and further redefinitions as time and circumstance change; it’s no longer inviolable—no longer the property of any single conceptualization.

    Don’t get your panties in a bunch, Brew. I’m speaking colloquially about “free market” when I use the term. I use the term “capitalist” in a different way, such as when I say that “slavery is a prime capitalist institution.” I can use “free market” commensurate with your definition, but you have to make the terms evident before you start criticizing my use of it—I’m not approaching your definition when I comment on it.

    Dwight Sheldon Adams

  7. #7 by Dwight Sheldon Adams on September 22, 2010 - 7:56 am

    The market will make for better retirements for everyone. It doesn’t make sense to have a retirement insurance plan that is independent from the all-knowing, never failing, free market. Why did we come up with this plan in the first place? Well, at least if we all had private retirement plans they’d be safer than some socialistic government scheme, since the market never falters.

    It’s amazing. It’s as if the Market Fundamentalist believes that progressives just appeared out of nowhere and started passing regulatory laws for no other reason than to fill their empty time—or to promote Marxism. No one perceives the great travails that produced this country’s labor movement, the pain, suffering, and, indeed, market tyranny that provoked the laborers to grasp at the first ideology that pronounced that they actually deserved anything but toil and death. No one remembers the unsafe working conditions, unsafe products, monopolistic practices, cabals, and other standards of the market that prompted citizens to demand that government take a hand in the economic power struggle. They don’t remember when our choices were to watch the elderly strangle on their years of hard work and croak or to set up an out-of-the-market solution to the destruction people’s bodies were facing after decades of hard labor for another man’s meat and wine.

    No; it’s simpler. It’s Marxism, pure and simple. Regulations were created to destroy the American economy; they were creative, not reactive (anagrams are fun!). There never was any suffering amongst the lower class but that which they brought on themselves, and whatever suffering the market may have enabled or empowered was necessary—we wouldn’t be where we are today without it! Yeah, well, we wouldn’t be where we are today without the NAZIs, either, or King George (the British one, although the American one was pretty bad, too); but does that mean we couldn’t forgive history if it had excluded them?

    Dwight Sheldon Adams

  8. #8 by Larry Bergan on September 22, 2010 - 11:29 pm

    Gary:

    Welcome to the world of being the media and not profiting from it. Nobody in today’s media will ever ask follow-up questions like you did with Wimmer. You finally got a decent answer and you should feel good about showing up and doing what’s right.

    The problem in America today is people don’t realize that doing something just because it’s the right thing to do and not because it’s going to result in big bucks is what makes a society great.

    The market is fine for things that aren’t necessary to someones survival and happiness, but that is where I draw the line.

  9. #9 by Gary Kunkel on September 23, 2010 - 11:57 am

    Thanks Larry, I think it felt worth it even if it didn’t make any difference. I also felt like it confirmed what I mostly knew already, that there is only a skin deep ideology there, which is promoted quite loudly obviously.

    Dwight, I lost a comment somehow – but I was going to say something along the lines of “short memories breed bad policy”…Then I realized that you can point out the historical background to various regulation, and the necessity to protect their ideology brings out automatic revisionist histories, tough to win against those folks!

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