Nobody (soliloquy76) wrote in talk_politics,

The Free Market vs. Subsidies

This started out as sort of a thought dump in my journal, but a fetching young lass convinced me to post it here as well. Pardon any lack of cohesion.

I've been thinking about the free market and how that could work (or not) in the United States in a global economy. First, I should disclose that I'm by no means an expert in economics. Second, let's define some terms. A free market is defined as:
An economic system in which prices are determined by unrestricted competition between privately owned businesses.
This is the foundation of the Austrian school of economics pushed by libertarians and some conservative-types. The global economy can be defined as:
The international spread of capitalism, especially in recent decades, across national boundaries and with minimal restrictions by governments.

As we all know, we currently live in a global economy where various level of the free market exist. Each country has their own regulations, wage and human rights laws, etc which ultimately determine the cost of goods and services from those countries. China, for example, is the fastest growing economy in the world because their human rights laws and wages are so poor that workers are a cheap commodity. It's why we're all able to afford PCs, iPods, LCD TVs, etc. It's also why manufacturing in the United States is virtually nonexistent and (arguably) why we're seeing such high unemployment as jobs are outsourced to countries like China, India, and Mexico.

So how does the United States compete and get those jobs back? In a free(r) market, we would have to reach parity (or come close to) with the lowest common denominator. American workers would have to be competitive with Chinese workers, for example. Our quality of life would necessarily suffer. Is this something free market proponents accept, and by accepting this reality, advocate?

What got me thinking about this was my recent purchase of a Chevy Volt. For those who don't know, it's a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) produced by GM. GM, of course, was saved by the federal government in 2009 because of the credit crisis of 2008 and the subsequent recession. If GM hadn't been saved, not only would millions of jobs have been affected or lost, the Volt would have never seen the light of day and the US would be considerably behind the curve in development of next-generation vehicles. Japan already has the Prius (with a new PHEV variant), and the Leaf which is totally electric.

Now I was on board with the "end government subsidies" crowd not too long ago, but in conversations with some rather rabid anti-government conservatives, it got me thinking that not only are government subsidies not always a bad thing, they're necessary if the United States is to compete with the rest of the world. Every auto-producing nation in the world receives some sort of government subsidy, including Japan. By removing ours, we're effectively killing that industry in the United States.

My question for the free market advocates out there is that, given the global market we're in where other countries are subsidizing their industries, how do we reconcile not doing so domestically to remain competitive? I realize this is an oversimplification of a complicated issue, and like I said, I'm not an economics expert. Hopefully any free market advocates in here can set me straight.
Tags: economy, subsidies
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