Free Markets and Property Rights 2: Education, Society and Government

Having now demonstrated the need for government within a Free Market Society, the inherent conflict between absolute property rights and free markets, and the self-terminating and self-contradictory nature of both concepts in the previous article; I now feel it might be entertaining to move on to an area of more practical policy: education.

The liberating potential of a free market might be argued to depend in no small way upon education. By education, one should assume for the rest of my note in no small way that I do not merely mean education of the academic, schools kind, but of the whole variety of skills and training that exist in addition to compulsory education.

After all, education is everything. If you have no education, you can only apply skills that are self-taught (which would most usually take far more time and effort than having the benefit of someone’s help and expertise) or find work that requires little to no skills. It seems obvious, then, that the breadth of one’s education influences to no small extent the liberting potential of the free market grants.

What also seems obvious is that it influences the playing field. For the free market to be free, remember, there can be no ability for established interests to receive an inherent advantage — the point of the free market is, after all, to work entirely on the basis of free competition and trade. However, if only the wealthy have purchasing power of a comprehensive (in the true meaning of the word, as opposed to the political meaning) education, this clearly constitutes a starting advantage for a set of established interests, which goes against the principle at the heart of a free market.

This is, at heart, the most basic objection to the idea of government only intervening to protect property rights and freedom of trade and competition, however, there are others.

Firstly, one has to ask the question as to what makes a government stable. In a debate I have had over the pros and cons of the idea of meritocracy, my most basic objection was that it restricts the base of those influencing government to an inherently unstable leve, where the power is disproportionately concentrated to a set number of people, and therefore no incentive exists to help those outside of this set of people, which contributes to the creation of a social divide.

Though democracy is an inherently more stable concept, as everyone has a certain amount of influence upon government, there are still far more considerations than merely the voting base. There is wealth, which we have gone over in the previous analysis, too great a disproportion in the distribution of which, or too great the scope of purchasing power, resulting in the domination of government by the minority that holds such power. As we have seen, however, education helps to further entrench this imbalance of market power: which would mean that not only would a social divide exist due to an unequal distribution of social power, but all the tools would exist to cement its existance. Or in other words; Disraeli’s “two nations”.

The consequences of this could be considerable, in either direction. Firstly, the privileged section of society might feel a need to protect itself further from the perpetually disadvantaged section of society, and influence government to this end, leading to the re-establishment of a more formal class system, and thus an end to the free market. Secondly, the disadvantaged section of society might get discontent enough to the extent of either revolution, or forcing through radical socail change: which would again mean an end to the existence of an entirely free market.

Of course there is an obvious solution to this: public education policy. The very mention of this idea as necessary to the sustaining of a free market would be enough to make the ears of the APRFM school turn collectively (and individually, of course) green, but we have another classic conundrum here: stick to only private supply of education, and the market is undermined by established interests and the development of a class system, and society becomes so divided as to undermine the legitimacy of both government and economic system. Have a public education policy, though, and you acknowledge the limitations of the market and violate the property rights of some for the benefit of others.

So, at the end of the day, we see that the market is not really absolutely free or absolutely liberating either way, whether APRFM were to get their way or not. So sensibly, things boil down to what’s best for people collectively, or “what’s best for society”. Who’dathunkit? There’s more to society than the free market and property rights?

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