The market, for instance, is a wonderful tool for human flourishing. Milton Friedman was and remains right that no other method has been found which can hold a candle to the market as a means for bringing the lowest classes of humanity to levels of prosperity undreamed of by kings. But it is still a means, not an end. It satisfies human desires; it cannot create them for us. Like any tool, it can be abused.
I totally agree with this, it’s become somewhat off-putting to see how quickly some self-identified ‘conservatives’ (really, neoliberals) attach a quasi-divine importance to free markets, to the point where I’ve taken to referring to it as ‘Faith-based economics’.
I would suggest that it’s the right to property ownership that is the true ideal conservatives ought to focus on and not mere ‘market forces’ (which can just as surely be used to dismantle a healthy society a la the hallowed concept of the free movement of capital and labor via open borders). To that extent, I consider the dogmatic free trade, immigration friendly attitude of many contemporary conservatives (especially among politicians and the paid chattering class of the corporate media) troubling.
If one thinks of a nation as the property of its citizens as a whole — a useful metaphor, in my opinion — then it‘s perfectly legitimate for its citizens to determine under what circumstance it will engage foreign nations (in the form of trade) and which it won’t, and under what circumstances it will allow foreigners entry and residence (in other words, immigration), and which it won’t. To act as if it’s an article of faith that conservatives must advocate the surrender of that fundamental right of a free people in the name of an economic theory is misguided, forgetting that the entire point of conservatism is to conserve something.
This is my problem with neoliberal economics — where traditional capitalism is concerned primarily with property ownership in all its aspects, neoliberalism is unduly focused on commerce (as if the sole benefit of property rights is found in the act of buying and selling). Left to work its own ends, neoliberalism can be quite destructive in its effects, culturally as well as economically.
Lest anyone misunderstand , I’m a great admirer of much of what Milton Friedman taught and very sympathetic to many of the ideas behind libertarianism (minarchism in particular). I just think the confidence that some have in the forces is a bit misplaced.