The worship of the ancient golden calf . . . has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.
Critics have long attacked market systems as being “impersonal.” The implication is that markets somehow violate morality by treating others merely as means rather than as valuable ends in themselves. In Pope Francis’s first apostolic exhortation, he jumped on that bandwagon by criticizing market systems as representing “the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”
Attributing the term "dictatorship" to market systems is sure to produce confusion. So what are markets anyway?
Markets are what results when people are free to choose how to associate with one another in the absence of coercion. The only “dictatorship” is the restriction that such arrangements be voluntary. That clearly advances human purposes—those of each individual involved in an exchange. It is surely an odd sort of dictatorship that consists in people not dictating choice to others.
Restricting markets does not mean that what would take their place would be caring, personal relationships—it may well be abuse of others by governments (as so dramatically demonstrated by our past century’s experience). Overriding the voluntary arrangements people create for themselves means depriving them of their liberty and forcing them into collectivized alternatives they do not choose. That in no way guarantees a more loving or caring society. That cannot be created by force.
.. In contrast, government imposition ignores a vast array of people’s preferences and hinders adjustment in the face of change. In Read’s words:The market . . . continuously and automatically moves ever-changing satisfactions and ever-changing aspirations—supply and demand of particular goods and services—toward a harmony one with the other. . . .
The alternative to the free market is the rigged, planned, dictatorial, coercive, interventionist, authoritarian market, variously known as the planned economy, the welfare state, omnipotent government . . . disruptive and antisocial . . . of necessity forcing ever-changing satisfactions and ever-changing aspirations toward a state of disharmony one with the other—shortages of this, surpluses of that . . . [ignoring] your countless and ever-changing preferences or what constitutes your idea of your welfare.
.. government interventions, despite their boilerplate rhetoric, frequently treat citizens impersonally as little more than means to the ends imposed upon them by their rulers.
And there is perhaps nothing more impersonal than such an imposition.