Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Bowl of Pottage in a Free Market Economy

My family has been dealing with some serious medical issues lately. 2 surgeries that included hospital stays in the past six weeks.

In the midst of all of this, there is back and forth with the state over medical coverage, as they removed it, then they restored it, then they removed it again, based on self employment numbers from 2014. My income dropped $10,000 from self employment from 2014 to 2015.

As I was working to put the correct forms together to prove it, I thought back on the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau and the bowl of soup, found in Genesis 25. This "bowl of pottage" story shows why a truly unregulated economy cannot work.

I will recount the story as a reminder:

29Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.f )
31Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
32“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
33But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
34Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright.
A true free market depends on both parties being equal partners in the economy. If one has greater influence than the other, they can use that influence in a corrupt manner to force the partner in the subservient role to accept terms they would never accept if all things were equal.

In the story above, Esau was subservient because he was legitimately concerned about starvation. Jacob could ask anything he wanted because the relationship was unequal. And Jacob exploited his position, asking for the older brother's share of a rather substantial.

In our case, medical care would be the issue. Because these health issues must be addressed, any price would be asked and we would likely pay it. This is what led to indentured servitude historically.

In the case of an unemployed family, basic needs such as shelter, food, heat, and transportation are the bludgeons that can be used against people with less access to these things. I guarantee that virtually everyone making the minimum wage feels it is unfair, yet the reason most of these haven't gone out on strike is because, quite simply, they can't. I saw this firsthand years ago in a march with Occupy Dallas as we walked past numerous fast food restaurants to see the workers inside the building cheering us on. Surprisingly enough, we received the same favorable treatment from a manager at an upscale department store.

The Libertarian fantasy only works for those who can broker their way to an advantageous position in a power struggle. For those fortunate to be at the top, this libertarian society is a utopia, where they can say, as Michael Badnarik did in his 2004 expose, "it's good to be king".

But just as suffering and misery exists just beyond the glow of Las Vegas' famous Fremont Street, you do not need to go far beyond the castles of these newly minted Libertarian kings to see the suffering upon which these castles were built.

The role of government in these instances is to act as arbiter, to preserve a system where equal opportunity remains, and where race, gender, religion, economic standing, sexual orientation and other variables cannot be used as a tool to wrest undue control over the subservient party. A system where the actions of Martin Shkrelli are criminal and not merely controversial. A system where a birthright need not be bartered for a bowl of pottage.