Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pro Market vs Pro Business

This video has been making the rounds, and I've got to say the trader being interviewed does seem to be trying hard for a "first against the wall when the revolution comes" award.

I think one of the natural reactions many people have when seeing something like this is: How can you be pro-market when you see this is what markets are all about? This guy is gleeful at the idea of making money off a market crash that wipes out millions of people's retirement savings!

The answer, I think, is in keeping in mind the difference between being pro-business and pro-market. Businesses are not necessarily pro-market, since markets only reward businesses so long as they are doing a better job at meeting customers' needs than other businesses. Markets can, thus, both reward businesses and also chew them up and spit them out.

Watching some cocky trader bragging about how he'll make money while everyone else is going broke tends to make people feel like what they need is a champion sitting behind a regulatory agency desk to rein his excesses. The problem is that we don't really have any guarantee that the people in our legislative and regulatory bodies will be any nicer than this guy, or any less prone to think that they know more than they really do.


Brandon said...

Very important distinction. What is more, pro-market positions have often (although not always) been linked with positions that are somewhat suspicious of business, at least over certain matters -- Adam Smith's famous statement about "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public" comes to mind, which is precisely a statement about how the interests of particular businesses may diverge from what is consistent with free and honest exchange. Smith recommends law as a remedy, but while simultaneously noting that if it is not qualified it may also end up being inconsistent with free and honest exchange. So the distinction has always been there as an important ones, although it hasn't always taken the same form as it does in Smith.

Darwin said...


Indeed. I've always thought that Smith quote underscores one of the difficulties in trying to be too directive in how we regulate specific industries. It seems that almost as soon as some incredibly well meaning person sets out to bring order to the market place, all sorts of helpful advisers turn up who just happen to be concerned parties, and a "conspiracy against the public" soon gets underway.

What better illustration of the fallen nature of our humanity that trying to reign in vice so often gives new scope to vice?

Brandon said...

What better illustration of the fallen nature of our humanity that trying to reign in vice so often gives new scope to vice?

Quite right. It's one reason why traditional natural law theory always had a doctrine of toleration -- i.e., when it comes to human laws it is often necessary to tolerate things that are wrong by natural law, because trying to do something about them could make things worse. (The example they typically use is always interesting, since the example they always use is that making prostitution illegal would lead to more harm than good; St. Thomas Aquinas would be stunned at the severity of our vice laws, which are well beyond anything that the thirteenth century would even have dared imagine, even if he might often agree with their point.)

The point about helpful 'advisers' is a good one; there are lots of areas where a government guaranteed to be incorruptible and impartial could do a lot of good, but where, given that government isn't guaranteed to be incorruptible and impartial, more government action just introduces more ways to manipulate the system.