Prosti trg ne obstaja, trg lahko obstaja samo z aktivno vlogo države

James Kwak, avtor odlične knjige “Economism“, ki sem jo tukaj že predstavljal, recenzira novo knjigo politologa Stevena Vogla, “Marketcraft: How Governments Make Markets Work”. Vogel na hitro opravi z bistroumnim nesmislom termina “prosti trg“. Prosti trg sam po sebi ali sam zase ne obstaja. Tržne sile namreč naravno težijo k izrivanju manjših konkurentov in h koncentraciji in oligopolizaciji ali celo monopolu. Če država ne regulira konkurence na trgu, manjši ponudniki izginejo in veliki igralci zlorabljajo svojo tržno moč. In naprej, bistvo tržnega gospodarstva je v zaščiti lastnine in sploh intelektualne lastnine. Brez aktivne regulacije države (zaščite intelektualne lastnine) pač ne more priti do tehnološkega razvoja in inovacij, ker se ne splača vlagati v raziskave in razvoj. In tako naprej.

Trga in tržne konkurence ni brez močne regulacije države in institucij. Država ustvarja pogoje za trg. Tukaj ne more biti nevtralnosti, ne more biti odsotnosti države. Če je država odsotna, dobimo kaos. Dobimo Divji zahod. Oziroma Divji vzhod. Če hočemo dobro delujoč trg, potrebujemo več države, ne manj. Voglove ugotovitve lahko strnemo v naslednji odstavek:

markets exist in a complex equilibrium between incumbents and challengers, firms and individuals, regulations and norms; and the job of government is to craft a desired equilibrium by influencing these factors. There is no neutral, “free” position.

Preden se lotite Voglove knjige, se splača prebrati še ta del Kwakove recenzije:

Building on decades of comparative research into advanced industrial societies, Vogel lays out in impressive detail the myriad ways in which governments, private sector institutions, social practices, and cultural norms construct and shape markets. It makes little sense to ask whether a market is free or regulated. The important questions are who governs a market, how, and for what ends; and the key public policy question is how the government (which is, at least theoretically, an instrument of the people) should act to modify the resulting market in pursuit of the public interest.

These truisms, Vogel argues, are well understood among people who study the developing world and post-communist transitions. In those contexts, it’s clear that the establishment of a market economy depends on the active construction of supporting institutions. It’s only in the advanced industrialized world that people speak of “restoring” a “free market” through “deregulation.” But, as Vogel shows through in-depth portraits of the United States and Japan, the idea that simply removing government from the equation could be the correct prescription for a complex economy is preposterous.

This is particularly apparent when it comes to competition policy and intellectual property. In the absence of antitrust law, it is well known that monopolies can have harmful effects on consumers, using their dominant market share to raise prices while under-investing in quality, innovation, and customer service. True market competition requires government policies to prevent excessive consolidation. Even more to the point, intellectual property, which makes up an increasing proportion of our economy, simply doesn’t exist without government action to create and enforce intellectual property rights to begin with. In both domains, functioning markets require more government involvement, not less.

Marketcraft covers an impressive amount of material, showing Vogel’s deep command over policy details, in relatively few pages. But most of the book is easy to agree with—yet another smart rebuttal of libertarian economic ideas. The most provocative section is the final chapter, which discusses the rhetoric of the market. “The elegant juxtaposition of the words free and market evokes many of the presumptions challenged in this book,” he objects: “that markets are natural; that markets arise spontaneously; that markets inherently constitute an arena of freedom; and that government action necessarily constrains this freedom.”

Vogel is obviously aiming at conservative ideologues who reflexively laud the market and vilify the government. But this dichotomy also permeates policy discourse in the center and on the left. The conceptual opposition between market and government is, at its root, a product of the way students learn basic economics—for better or worse, the predominant explanatory discipline of our time. Undergraduates learn early in their first semester that competitive markets maximize social welfare, and therefore government regulations that inhibit voluntary transactions make everyone worse off. Even when properly understood, this fundamental model “implies that imperfect markets are the puzzle to be solved and perfect markets the natural order.” The corollary is that government “intervention” in these imagined markets should be limited to setting the ground rules and, in later chapters, correcting for specific market failures. But this “market failure frame,” Vogel argues, is the wrong way to think about policy: “It suggests that it is possible for the market not to fail, and therefore that government action is a second-best solution, rather than a prerequisite for modern markets to function in the first place. And it evokes an image of a one-by-one matching of government response to market failure, rather than a more holistic process of market design.”

Yet the market failure frame is in large part the economic policy vision of the modern Democratic Party, desperate to run away from an imagined past characterized by unions, active government intervention in targeted industries, and welfare programs. The conservative strategy was to shout, “The market is rational and the government is dumb.” Democrats, afraid of being tarred as government-loving (and hence dumb) liberals, responded with “me, too.” Only, as well-educated technocrats like to do, we added a few qualifiers: markets are usually rational, and the government is usually dumb, but sometimes markets make mistakes, so in those cases (only) the government should intervene to restore the outcome that the market should have produced.

The market failure frame was tailor-made for a Democratic Party searching for an economic agenda. It enables us to find issues on which we disagree with Republicans. It appeals to our desire to show that we are smarter than they are. And it allows us to advocate for government action while insisting that we believe in markets, not socialism.

Several of contemporary Democrats’ signature economic causes fall squarely within the market failure frame. The classic example is the Obamacare individual mandate, which was designed to correct for the specific market failure called adverse selection: People know more about their health status than insurers do, so only sick people will buy insurance, but insurers anticipate that outcome and raise prices accordingly, so only really sick people buy insurance, and so on until no one can afford insurance. Hence the individual mandate—an example of government coercion that enables the health insurance market to function in the first place.

Vir: James Kwak, The Fallacy of the Free Market, Washington Monthly


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