What do we mean by “free markets” or even “capitalism” for that matter? It’s probably not what you think. For many people, these terms conjure images of Wall Street bankers and multinational corporations. Perhaps they also bring to mind small businesses and scrappy startups. All of those are part of free market capitalism, but they’re only one piece of the puzzle.
To understand the whole picture, you need to start with a single individual.
Start with yourself. You have hopes and dreams, talents and passions. You want to build a life that brings you and the ones you love happiness and excitement even as you achieve independence and stability. Ultimately, you want to build a life with meaning, filled with purpose. Everyone of us wants that for ourselves. And for each one of us, that life looks as unique and diverse as we all are. For all the things we share as a community and a society, there is no getting around the fact that each of us values different things at different times in different ways. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. No one can know you as well as you know yourself. The same is true for every one of us.
So here you are, a unique individual, out in the world trying to figure out life. Doing it the “free market” way means following three pretty simple rules.
Those are the rules of the free market: so long as you don’t hurt other people or steal their stuff, and so long as you keep your word, you’re free to do whatever you want. You’re free to work for whoever you want. You’re free to love and marry whoever you want. You’re free to worship whoever or whatever you want. You’re free to trade with whoever you want.
And with this freedom, you’re empowered to take on any problem you want to. Free markets destroy the problems in our society because they empower free people to destroy those problems and offer new solutions. Free markets empower everyone, but especially underdogs, upstarts and immigrants to take on the status quo precisely because they don’t need to seek permission first. Free markets don’t respect traditions unless those traditions are maintained peacefully. Free markets are the most radical, revolutionary force for change humanity has ever discovered. And the reason is simple. Free markets are nothing more and nothing less than each of us and all of us having the right to try our best at improving everything for each other.