The Unicorn Logic Against Free Markets—A Response to Andrew Strain at First Things

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In his recent piece, “Free Markets and Unicorns,” at First Things, Andrew Strain made the argument that free markets, like unicorns, don’t exist––so we should stop trying to defend them. Unfortunately for Mr. Strain, it is his laughable reasoning––not the defense of free markets––which belongs in the fanciful world of unicorns.

His argument goes like this:

There are two economic sectors: private and public. The private sector is the supposedly free market, while the public sector is under government control. But, as everyone knows, the free market is built on those bastions of American greed: corporations. And––here’s where he thinks he’s got us––corporations are not entirely private sector beasts. Instead, they’re a public sector mongrel that tries to function privately.

Why does Strain think corporations belong, at least in part, to the public sector? Because they rely on the governmnet––gasp!––to uphold their precious contracts! Thus, apart from the government’s “help” corporations couldn’t exist, and by resistless logic, neither could the free market. So, Strain concludes, there really is no such thing as a free market or private sector in any meaningful sense. Therefore, no one should object when the government intrudes into the economy because, after all, there is no difference between the public sector of the government and the wider economy.

Did you see the sleight of hand? Strain thinks that relying on government in any form makes something “public sector” to that extent. But that’s absurd. To see how absurd it is, consider what this would mean in regard to a non-corporate business, like a local bakery.

The local bakery must “rely on the government” to uphold its contractual agreements with all sorts of other businesses: with vendors, repairmen, utility companies, insurance agencies, etc… Does this mean that the local bakery isn’t truly private sector, and that it should therefore be subject to the public interests of the government?

Or consider a house. Home-owners must “rely on the government” to uphold contracts with utility companies, insurance companies, etc… not to mention relying on the government for police protection against criminals. Does this make one’s home part of the public sector?

Of course not. That’s absurd. But that’s the reasoning employed by Mr. Strain.

If running a corporation is no longer “private,” by virtue of the fact that the government must uphold contracts in order for it to function, then neither is owning a home, by virtue of the fact that the government is needed to keep criminals out of it. If relying on government means that corporations are “public,” and thereby subject to the economic whims of “the public good,” then so is your house.

Because Strain––by his unicorn logic––thinks that corporations are “a product of the state,” he concludes that they must be used by the state for “the common good.” By the same shoddy reasoning, every local business and every private home in the nation must be used by the state for the common good––whatever the hell that is.

So, if Strain wishes to ride his unicorn logic into the realm of state-controlled property for the common good, I say he should start with his own home.

I’ll be by later on my communist unicorn to claim my little piece of the common good from the Strain residence.

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Bachelor of Theology, Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, MN. M.A. in Philosophy, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.