Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Meditations on a Free Market

This is a reprint of something I wrote over two years ago. Almost nobody read it back then, of course, because back then almost nobody read the blog. What the piece says about web articles concerning the free market may be out of date, I haven't tried to update it. But my opinion on the subject also hasn't changed much in the intervening time. Since this was written I've acquired more experience in finding "informal" employment opportunities, and I still don' need no steenking papers.

“There's no ban or edict that any government can stuff down its subjects throats that some people will not resent and defy.” J.D. Tuccille

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the “underground economy,” “black market,” “parallel economy,” or whatever you want to call it – let’s call it the free market. Not really knowing what to say about it, I started surfing to learn more of what has been written. About ten pages into Google, I finally realized that not a hell of a lot has been written – at least not about the free market in these united States. Among a lot of writing-type folks, the assumption seems to be that in this country the market is indeed “black”, is contrasted with the “legitimate” market, and is concerned entirely with selling dope or dodging taxes. More recent tracts – and I couldn’t find a lot that’s recent – fixate on “illegal aliens.”

As far as I can tell, dope and taxes do have a lot to do with it, at least as far as free market goods are concerned. The market for such things has proven pretty damned conclusively that if people want to smoke weed or snort cocaine, they’re gonna do it. Pass all the laws you want against it and be damned to you, it’s still going to happen. I found an amusing article here - well, I found it amusing - about what happened to New York State’s revenues from cigarette taxes when the powers that be decided that levying the highest such taxes in the country was a good thing to do.

I’m more interested in the ramifications of free market labor, though. Here again, I’ve no doubt that taxes and immigration have a lot to do with it. If you live on minimum wage or less, the bite withholding takes from your check is not insignificant. If, as is increasingly the case, you can’t get direct employment at all but only work as a 1099 contractor, you’re supposed to save up and send in your income taxes without that “painless” cushion that withholding provides. In such case the temptation to just give that part a miss must be pretty damned strong.

And then there’s all those “illegal aliens” the conservatives like to emote about. Now, of course I would never, ever advocate or even condone anyone doing anything the slightest bit illegal. Therefore, on its face of course illegal immigration is a great, great evil. It is, after all, illegal. For shame! And I’ve heard for years about hordes of swarthy ne’er-do-wells comin’ over here, suckin’ up welfare and joinin’ them dangerous gangs. I’ve no doubt that there are such people, but it’s funny – I’ve lived in those cities and never met one. I have met hundreds of Hispanics who clearly weren’t born here, who worked for cash only, many of whom spoke no English at all. I’ve no doubt, though I haven’t asked, that some of them are as illegal as freebasing. And yet … don’t ask me how I know, but I do know that nearly every one that I’ve ever met gave a damned good day’s work for his pay. And I’ve always kind of admired the chutzpa it takes to cross a border illegally, with all the difficulties and dangers that entails, into a country where you don’t even speak the language, and take whatever job you can get from day to day. I’ve also wondered at the home conditions that would drive a person to do that. Seems to me only a certain sort of person would go to the trouble – probably the best sort. Not, of course, that I would ever condone such reprehensible behavior.

Complaints about welfare whores, I understand and share. I’d have no business with any such person under any circumstances, no matter how much or how little melanin he exhibits and no matter the legal status of his residency. Of course the cure for such people is fairly obvious – ask any libertarian or anarchist, and he’ll tell you all about it. But the shrillest complaints about immigrants aren’t about welfare, they’re about people having the gall to sell free market labor. “They’re not paying taxes!” – actually a lot of them do, they just don’t hang around for their refunds. “They use stolen social security numbers!” – often true, but who the hell’s fault is that? I’m old enough to remember when an American would be offended at the notion that he had to prove a damned thing before he was “entitled” to a job, except that he could do the job. When I spent my teenage summers picking corn and squash, I didn’t need no steenking number. I just had to prove I’d show up and do the work.

Thing is, it seems very strange to me even now that anybody but me and my employer would ever presume to decide whether I was entitled to work, or that anybody but me and a seller of a good would presume to decide whether I was allowed to buy that good. These days, in the afternoon of my life, I find I have no patience for such presumptuousness. I make my modest living in a – well, informal – manner, and it suits me just fine. Sorry if it offends anyone else. I’m gathering materials for a more permanent lair. And if quite a lot of it comes from barter for services, whose business is that? How did it come that so many other people, people we don’t even know, people of no earthly benefit to us, believe that they get any say at all in such things? These are the things I wonder about.

Sometimes, in darker moments, I wonder what should be done with such people.


Big Wooly said...

Good one, Joel.
Now that I've semi-retired to the hills I've seen a lot of barter and cash for services in this area. It's pretty much a way of life down here. Nobody here can afford a "Licensed Professional" but a man with a couple of tools can work all he wants.

Matt said...

Free marketeering is the best. Two cigarettes and a glass of beer each was the best deal for an hours work I ever saw.

Anonymous said...

I agree - living hard up against the Mexican border in south Texas, we have plenty of illegal alien labor force down here. Hard workers they are, and they don't take as many breaks either. Down below the border, Mexicans don't have government resources that we do here, so they HAVE to work hard. Down in Guanajato, I've seen kids in grade school manning the register if their parent had to duck out for errands. Responsible kids - I wish the average American kid had the same mindset.