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Free Market or… Freed Market?

in Business and Economy, Communicating Liberty, Economic Liberty, Liberator Online Archives by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 10 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Free MarketHere’s a neat little phrase that can be very handy when talking about economics: “freed market.”

No, not “free market.”

Freed market.

Here’s why.

As we’ve discussed in the past, “capitalism” is often not a very useful word for libertarians to use to describe the economic system we advocate. Sheldon Richman of the Future of Freedom Foundation gives some good reasons for not always using the word “capitalism” here.

A more accurate and more popular (according to a Gallup poll) alternative I’ve discussed is “free enterprise.”  Also good is “free market.”

But even these useful words are often hijacked by big-government conservatives and others who don’t really mean what libertarians mean by genuine free enterprise.

Today’s economic system is nothing like a free market. Yet it is often described as one. So, when people see massive economic problems and scandals all around them — subsidies and bailouts of rich businesses, unemployment, high taxes, dangerous products, corporate favoritism, monopolies — all of which are due to anti-market actions — it’s natural that they would oppose the “free market” system that we supposedly have. After all, the terms “capitalism” and “free market” are frequently used by those who defend this very system.

Ugh! What confusion!

Which makes “freed market” a great phrase to toss into a discussion.

For example, asked about your economic views, you might say: “I believe in the free market. Or, to be more precise, a freed market.”

Your listener: “What do you mean, ‘freed’ market?”

And that gives you the chance to explain what libertarians actually believe. Something along these lines:

“I want to see our current economic system freed up, for consumers and for competitors. A free market — which we don’t have today — would do that, and we’d all benefit.”

You then persuasively share the many ways everyone would benefit from this.

The use of “freed market” lets you point out how government meddling and crony capitalism, not the market, are responsible for today’s economic woes. It frees you from defending the present system, while still letting you use successful examples from that system as examples of what libertarians are striving for.

Importantly, “freed market” also makes it clear that we don’t have a free market today. It makes it clearer that you are talking about a goal, a better future, something different and better than the status quo.

In short, it lets you present the free market as the solution — not the cause — of today’s problems. It lets you offer a vision of a better future — not a defense of current abuses.

It’s a neat little twist.

The word “freed market” and the idea behind it have been discussed a lot at the Center for a Stateless Society. Here’s an excerpt from “Embracing Markets, Opposing ‘Capitalism’” by Gary Chartier that nicely points out the difference between the economic system we have today — and the free market libertarians want to see:

“To a very significant degree, the economic system we have now is one from which peaceful, voluntary exchange is absent. An interlocking web of legal and regulatory privileges benefit the wealthy and well connected at the expense of everyone else (think patents and copyrights, tariffs, restrictions on banking, occupational licensing rules, land-use restrictions, etc.). The military-industrial complex funnels unbelievable amounts of money — at gunpoint — from ordinary people’s pockets and into the bank accounts of government contractors and their cronies.

“Subsidies of all kinds feed a network of privileged businesses and non-profits. And the state protects titles to land taken at gunpoint or engrossed by arbitrary fiat before distribution to favored individuals and groups. No, the economies of the US, Canada, Western Europe, Japan, and Australia, at least, aren’t centrally planned. The state doesn’t assert formal ownership of (most of) the means of production. But the state’s involvement at multiple levels in guaranteeing and bolstering economic privilege makes it hard to describe the economic system we have now as free.”

With the right listeners, the term “freed markets” can help you open minds to a new understanding of genuine economic freedom and the blessings it can bring.

Word Choices: “Free Enterprise” Instead of Capitalism?

in Communicating Liberty by Sharon Harris Comments are off

Word choices are very important. Two words might mean the same thing to you. But to your audience, one word may be far more meaningful and positive than another — and may get your point across not just more favorably, but more accurately.

An example is the word “capitalism” to describe the economic system libertarians believe in.

In a past column, I described some of the positive and negative reactions some audiences have to “capitalism,” and suggested some alternatives that are better in some circumstances.

You can read that column here.

Now we have some fascinating information to add.

A January 2010 Gallup poll makes a very good case for using “free enterprise” in many situations.

This January 2010 poll asked a representative sampling of Americans whether their top-of-mind reactions to several political terms were positive or negative. Respondents were not given explanations or descriptions of the terms.

Two of those terms were “capitalism” and “free enterprise.”

Both words, of course, essentially mean the same thing in typical, common usage.

However, they drew considerably different approval ratings.

First, the word “capitalism.”

Says Gallup: “Americans are more positive than negative on ‘capitalism,’ the word typically used to describe the United States’ prevailing economic system.

“‘Capitalism’ generates positive ratings from a majority of Americans, with a third saying their reaction is negative [61% versus 33%].

Ellis Island“Republicans are significantly more positive than Democrats in their reactions to ‘capitalism,’ although majorities of both groups have favorable opinions.

“Conservatives have the highest positive image [for the word "capitalism"], followed by liberals. Moderates have somewhat lower positive ratings than either of these groups.”

Now consider reaction to the term “free enterprise.”

According to Gallup:

“Americans are almost uniformly positive in their reactions to… ‘free enterprise.’”

“Eighty-six percent of respondents rated the term ‘free enterprise’ positively, giving it substantially more positive ratings than ‘capitalism.’ Although in theory these two concepts are not precisely the same, they are in many ways functional equivalents.

“Yet, underscoring the conventional wisdom that words matter, the public clearly reacts differently to the two terms. Free enterprise as a concept rings more positively to the average American than does the term capitalism.

“Strongly positive ratings of free enterprise are generally uniform across both partisan groups [Democrats and Republicans], and across the three ideological groups [liberals, conservatives, moderates].”

Gallup sums up with a lesson effective libertarian communicators cannot ignore:

“Bottom line: As most politicians and many in business have learned, the choice of words to describe a concept or a policy can often make a substantial difference in the public’s reaction. The current research confirms that assumption.

“It is apparent that ‘free enterprise’ evokes more positive responses than ‘capitalism,’ despite the apparent similarity between the two terms.”

NOTE: The same Gallup report I link to above also offers a very useful analysis by Gallup that breaks the popularity of these phrases down further, by political ideology (conservative, liberal, and “moderate”), by party, and so on. I highly recommend this short analysis to anyone seriously interested in using these terms effectively.