Steve Horwitz links to this list of “60 Things NOT To Do if You Hate the Free Market,” assembled by libertarian students at St. Lawrence University. I think it is a nice response to inane and condescending “look at all these idiots using government roads to get to their anti-tax, anti-government protests” pictures and comments. I agree that the “look at all these idiots using products made by corporations to protest corporations” pictures and comments are almost as inane (and yes, I’ve been guilty of it at times), there’s a crucial difference: Apple can’t put you in jail for refusing to buy an iPhone. Governments can put you in jail for refusing to pay for their services. When I posted this on Facebook, a friend pointed out (correctly) that a lot of private firms benefit from the special privileges only governments can dispense. I’m sure, for example, that someone will point out how Apple is a bad example because of how they benefit from IP law.
There’s a lot of truth to this. Where there are rents, there are rent-seekers. Or, as Donald J. Boudreaux has put it, “if rents can be created, they will be sought.” Over the summer, I criticized “a ruthless libertarian criticism of everything existing.” There are a lot of firms and industries that benefit from special government privileges, but if you look hard enough you will probably find that this is true of all creatures great and small.
In the ongoing discussions about the Occupy Wall Street movement, for example, I think we need to be very careful to distinguish between the very correct and very justified opposition to and anger about “crony capitalism” or special privileges and wrong-headed arguments against free markets. My impression is that what outrages the Occupiers is not merely that firms co-opt the state to increase their profits. They are upset that firms pursue profits to begin with. In short, I think that there are more than a few members of the Occupation who are suspicious not of the way that patterns of exchange are distorted by government intervention and rent-seeking special interests. My impression is that they are suspicious of exchange itself. I hope I’m wrong.
In this video, Christopher Coyne responds to Occupy Wall Street.