The free market has created a miracle. The United States is a place where people have the opportunity to live their entrepreneurial dream. The key word in that sentence is “opportunity,” which is the great conjunction of circumstances that make it possible for a person to do something.

In the U.S., it is because of the free market that someone can be almost anything. But it doesn’t always work out that way. According to Investopedia, a free market is “one where voluntary exchange and the laws of supply and demand provide the sole basis for the economic system, without government intervention.”

Great opportunity is presented when energetic and entrepreneurial folks, combined with a voluntary exchange, and the laws of supply and demand are the sole basis for the system. The sole basis, no other elements to consider, just have an idea and work hard and turn it into gold, right? There seems to be something missing here. Let’s see, could it be equal opportunity?

While I admit the free market has many positive qualities, and no other system has equaled it in terms of economic vitality, it is not perfect. While it does solve many problems, it also creates other problems. Part of that is because it is blind to the absence of equality. The market is subject to other influences than the simple ones noted; “voluntary exchange” and “supply and demand” are not the sole elements to consider.

Here in the Cherokee Nation, Indigenous peoples know all too well that race has always been a consideration, as have gender and religious beliefs. Of late, we have been made aware that sexual orientation is also a consideration, as is political affiliation.

People are way more complex in their decisions than supply and demand. Other complications are also not addressed. The simple formula of voluntary exchange and supply and demand don’t account for cheating or monopolizing or threatening, much of which is considered criminal. Voluntary exchange and supply and demand do not have the capacity to recognize or intervene in these matters. Hence the last element of the definition “without government intervention,” is, and always has been, untrue.

Even in biblical times, there were limits placed on commerce. A good example is Jesus at the temple: “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, ‘It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.’”

Why did he do that? According to one source, “first, they should not have been there” and “second, these money-changers and pigeon sellers were inflating their rates. They were robbing the people who sincerely wanted to offer up sacrifices to the Lord.” A “free market” would have allowed the activities and the dictum “charge what the market will bear” would have been invoked.

We don’t have to go too far back in our own history to see that the government has had to intervene to “even the playing field.” In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt wrote: “There is a widespread conviction in the minds of the American people that the great corporations known as trusts are in certain of their features and tendencies hurtful to the general welfare,” and went on to say, “It (trust busting) is [rather] based upon sincere conviction that combination and concentration should be, not prohibited, but supervised and within reasonable limits controlled; and in my judgment this conviction is right.” Now we need to look at Amazon, Google and Facebook.

Robert Lee is a retired social worker with interests in history and politics.

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