« THE FALL AND RISE OF DEVELOPMENT ECONOMICS (econ 280) | Main | Median Income and Poverty Rate Hold Steady, Census Bureau Finds - NYTimes.com »



Jacob Strauss

The author made valid points on the origins of market and the "myth of the 'free market.'" I also agree with him on the problem of wealth inequality, especially as recent news has shown 95% of the income gains from 2009 to 2012 went to the top 1%. That said, it is much easier to criticize the system and call for change than it is to develop a solution. The author stops just short of actually proposing what changes ought to be made, and as a result the end of the article is lacking in some respects. It has some mighty rhetoric but needs more in substance, because even those that agree that wealth inequality is a problem can disagree on how to fix it. He ends with the standard "us versus them" discussion that arises when criticizing the economic and political elite.

Maddie Kosar

I agree with Jacob's reasoning about the lack of proposals of change; if we want change to happen, we cannot merely complain about what is in place. Instead, we must work to change what we do not like. Reich brings up a lot of good questions about what should and should not be defined in our laws, but does not give very much opinion either way. He may simply be trying to get us thinking as a nation, but in order to have a major effect, Reich would be better off stating possible resolutions to our current problems. It is also important to note that he is focusing on the extreme right side of the spectrum in his criticisms. Not all conservatives support a completely free market with no laws to control it, and it seems as if he is out to vilify a group of people rather than find an answer to a problem. His article is very passionate, which gives it an authoritative tone, but on further inspection, it is only restating a problem that we have tried to fix for over a century.

Kasey Canon

I agree with both Jacob and Maddie. Although Reich made some great points on the myths about a free market, he did not offer any solutions for change. I would have enjoyed the article much more if he had offered his opinions or insights on possible improvements for the economy. I like how Reich describes the free market as "a bunch of rules" and that the governments must organize and maintain. Although Reich seems very knowledgable and enthusiastic about this topic, he, as Maddie said, is simply restating a problem. As Reich says himself, if we want to reduce the inequalities and insecurities that undermine the economy, we need to change the rules and make the economy work for us. I would have loved to hear what rules Reich would like to change.

Jean Turlington

Reich definitely makes some interesting comments about the "free market." Most people do seem to think of the idea of a free market as a market in which the government has little control and private businesses and people make their own decisions about what to do which affects the market. Reich really does make you think though like the people before me said when he describes the free market as having lots of rules because as I mentioned that is not how most people see it. Unlike the other students I sort or understand why he chose not to propose solutions or methods to fix the free market. He wants people to decide individually what type of market they want (a market designed to maximize efficiency, a market designed to maximize growth, a market designed to maximize fairness, or another market) and after they decide what type of "free market" they desire they can then look at policies and ideas that will fix things. The article was very interesting and he seems to have lots of ideas whether he expressed them in words or let the readers think about them.

Syed Ali

I have to agree with Jean, in that it seems to be an intentional decision on the part of Reich to leave the article open-ended. If Reich had formally outlined his theories on how to “make the economy work for us, rather than the other way around,” he would have strayed from a rigid argument predicated on logic into a normative argument. Expressing personal opinions on what should be done dilutes the effectiveness of an article intended to systematically outline how things are.

I was also intrigued by Reich’s argument regarding the artificiality of the “free market,” which he contends is a human creation and should therefore necessarily have human rules organizing and maintaining it. While I might agree with the latter point he makes, I think Reich is constraining the concept of the “free market” when he argues they are purely human in origin. It is true that the free market as we define it in Economics classes is human in origin. However, I personally consider the terminology of a free market to be broadly applicable to many other systems. In my personal opinion, the concept of a free market centers on the concept of self-regulation and autonomy. I like to think of anything, in which the quantities and costs of entities are determined not by a central processor but by individual units of the “economy,” as an effective free market.

This makes more sense through an example. An interesting one that I can think of involves the transportation of Oxygen molecules in multicellular organisms, a complex biological process essential to life but elegantly simple in concept. Oxygen is required by all cells to generate the energy they use in various biological processes, thus maintaining life. In multicellular organisms, oxygen is transported to individual cells, bound to the hemoglobin molecules contained within red blood cells. Red blood cells have an interesting conundrum in that they must be able to bind and transport oxygen in the lungs, and then release this oxygen as it is needed in the tissues. Binding and releasing are both accomplished by relatively simple hemoglobin molecules.

How does this relate in any way to the concept of a free market? Markets are used to distribute goods and services; the organism, in determining how to efficiently allocate oxygen to its various cells, uses a free market structure. Cells that are most metabolically active require the most oxygen; it is efficient for them to receive the majority of hemoglobin-bound oxygen. But there is no central authority in the circulatory system of organisms, micromanaging individual hemoglobin molecules on how to best distribute their precious oxygen molecules. Instead, a free market of sorts occurs, where cells that are most in need of oxygen (most metabolically active) receive the most oxygen, by causing the greatest release of oxygen from hemoglobin. The biochemical reactions that accomplish this exchange are rather complex, but we can see that there is no central authority; instead, an efficient allocation of oxygen molecules is achieved by numerous, individual biochemical interactions between cells in the body and hemoglobin molecules.

Tying this all up, I think Reich is too specific in his definition of a free market. While it is true that there are no literal “free markets” in the natural world, classical free market structure is foundational to many interactions in the biological and biochemical worlds. However, I do personally agree with Reich that regulation is necessary. Even in biochemistry, a degree of regulation is maintained by the rough “central authorities” of the brain and the endocrine system.

Krysta Huber

I agree with the opinion of several other comments that Reich simply criticizes the current situation without offering a specific solution. While he was clearly trying to make the point that the logic behind the free market is unfair and not technically free because humans have imposed rules to create it, I think that some of his examples make his argument very one-sided. For example, when he points out the different rules about what can be traded, under what conditions, etc. he uses some pretty extreme examples - babies, slaves, nuclear materials. Certainly such trade and ownership has and does happen, but much simpler goods and services are traded and owned as well. Reich uses these examples to make those who believe in the power of the free market seem irrational. While I do think that there is an uneven distribution of wealth in our country, I don't think it's fair to juxtapose the billionaires against those who work 3 part-time jobs. Though it may not be true in all cases, that billionaire worked hard to reach his or her success too.

I also agree that it's important that Reich kept his article open-ended. Open-ended pieces always spur discussion (as it is on this very blog) and I think that having these discussions are important stepping stones in seeking change.

Lizz Platt

Reich proposes the idea that the free market is not truly free just as all economists have argued for ages that nothing is technically free. But rather than the opportunity costs preventing a free market, Reich discusses the rules set by society. Not every rule Reich identifies is an effect of the clout attained by the powerful. The idea of what can be owned and traded becomes a moral regulation set by the ethical standards of society. Slaves, unsafe foods, and votes, to name a few examples, are unethical and immoral to sell or trade. Although many citizens have the possibility to gain great deals of wealth through means of selling these items, morality becomes an issue. Much like the idea of the Invisible Hand, in which each member of the market working independently naturally creates a competitive market, the moral standards create the rules of the free market.

Reich continues to cite other rules present in the free market in order to achieve growth, efficiency, and fairness. His ultimate answer to the question of who creates the rules that govern the free market is that the power lies in the wealthy that pay off politicians, regulatory heads, and courts. However, Reich does propose a solution to this issue. Politicians, along with other national leaders, both present and future, must work towards expressing their opinions as delegates of the American society rather than money-influenced heralds. With citizens exerting their power to elect only the fittest leaders, this goal can be reached. The solution lies in the hands of the voters to put politicians in place that will set the framework of rules for the market to grow equally for all classes of society to reduce the skewed distribution of wealth.

pj cline

I agree with Reich's proposal that the economy is not as free as it appears and is instead controlled by our representatives in government. In a utopian society this would work fine, unfortunately that is not the case in America. This is because politicians often frame the economy to benefit those that helped them get elected. This can be seen by the Koch brothers who donated millions of dollars through Super Pacs to the politicians of their choosing. By doing so the billionaire brothers expect to be compensated in some way. Most likely by changing the tax code so that it benefits the ultra wealthy. The statistic that Jacob points out that "95% of the income gains from 2009 to 2012 went to the top 1%" is astounding and testifies to the flawed system that exists in our government. Which is why Superpacs should be not be anonymous as they are now.


Reich argues that the reason the US market is not free is due to people's ability to change and influence the rules placed on the market. Specifically wealthy people's ability to change and influence the law. Is that a wrong thing to do though? Is it amoral? Well, no. One of economics assumptions is that people act on their self interest. So it is completely reasonable to think that is how the wealthy act. If you were able to make yourself better off would you? If you said no you are crazy. The wealthy feel targeted by the government and they are actively trying to take this target off their backs. It just happens that policies that help the wealthy hurt the poor and policies helping the poor harm the wealthy. Changing the rules can be amoral though. If they change the rules in such a way that it harms society or other parts of society, then it is wrong and needs to be changed. Government policy is a tough debate and one that will probably never be settled, but at least we aren't North Korea or Cuba.

The comments to this entry are closed.