What’s overlooked—intentionally or not—is that the alternative to a government-regulated economy is not an unregulated one. As a matter of fact, “unregulated economy,” like square circle, is a contradiction in terms. If it’s truly unregulated it’s not an economy, and if it’s an economy, it’s not unregulated. The term “free market” does not mean free of regulation. It means free of government interference, that is, legal plunder and other official aggressive force.
What regulates the conduct of these people? Market forces. (I keep specifying “in a freed market” because in a state-regulated economy, competitive market forces are diminished or suppressed.) Economically speaking, people cannot do whatever they want—and get away with it—in a freed market because other people are free to counteract them and it’s in their interest to do so. That’s part of what we mean by market forces. Just because the government doesn’t stop a seller from charging $100 for an apple doesn’t mean he or she can get that amount. Market forces regulate the seller as strictly as any bureaucrat could—even more so, because a bureaucrat can be bribed. Whom would you have to bribe to win an exemption from the law of supply and demand?
.. there can be no unregulated, or unfettered, markets. We use those terms in referring to markets that are unregulated or unfettered by government. As long as we know what we mean, the expressions are unobjectionable.