The most common theme one finds when listening to free market proponents is how they (the markets) are the only way to judge what is valuable to someone. The way to discover that is simply to see if someone is willing to pay money for something. As long as someone pays for it, it is understood that it was valuable for that person. It provided a utility.
I always found this implication flawed but I couldn’t really put my finger on the why. Until today, where a post on the growing popularity of alternative medicine came to my attention. This immediately presented me with an example of the obvious contradiction between what the markets consider as valuable or useful and what truly is.
For any skeptic, alternative medicine and other woo-woo are obviously worthless, not only do they not provide any health benefit (over the odd placebo) but they can be overall harmfull by making people avoid taking scientific medicine and reducing the funds and thus the research that would have otherwise been spent on scientific research. These effects are already obvious today, as the article above points out.
But for the free market proponent, it must be obvious that complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) provide value since people are paying for them. And the more people pay for them, so goes the thinking, the more valuable must they be. And more so than anything else, the CAM success is based on deregulation of the medicine industry, allowing the free market to define what is useful rather than the experts.
The rise of CAM popularity then aptly displays where the free market mentality directly contradicts reality. CAM do not provide any value1 and yet they are rewarded by the free market as if they did.
Ans this is the complete failing of the free markets where any and all value is decided on a truly subjective basis, lacking overview or foresight. Because they deny that objective ways to judge value exist, they can easily lead the world to become a worse place. And this is not only limited to medicine but to almost anything esle which can be decided via the markets.
Lets take another example: Coal and Oil VS renewable and clean energy. While we can objectively see that using the former types of energy creates major environmental problems, the markets judge oil and coal as more valuable. The result? (Too) Many free market proponents are Global Warming deniers.
When Reality and Free Markets clash, it is the later which we are told must heed.
However one question remains. What is causing this problem? Would this be resolved if people simply followed scientific evidence? If people learned to trust in the scientific method, wouldn’t the markets represent that view? And herein lies the problem. Money.
The reason why the objective reality fails to be represented by the markets is because it is not reality that drives them. It is money. It is not reality that drives businesses. It is money. The main ingredient for the use of the free markets is the one that distorts the whole recipe.
Money is what that allows people to avoid starvation and cold. Starvation and cold are of a higher priority to humans than ideology. So when a human is faced with the choice of lying or starving, it is obvious what they will choose. Thus people will lie and misguide others in their attempt to make money. They will use scientific-looking evidence to muddle the waters for most humans. They will use the money that they make to hammer on, with more and more advertisements and misdirection. As long as there’s money to be made, it’s worth it.
It is not reality that rewards (with money) the valuable actions. It is money that distorts reality.
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- This post is not going to be about proving that CAM don’t work. I assume that this is understood by skeptics and I will not argue this point. If you’re a free market AND a woo-woo proponent then all hope is likely lost for you [↩]