Wednesday, April 2, 2014

New Jersey v. Economic Liberty

Praised Vertical Integration; Won Nobel Prize 

Thinks It Knows Better

A free society allows its citizens to engage in voluntary commercial exchange, so long as such exchange does not impose economic harm on unconsenting third parties.    Unfortunately the State of New Jersey takes a different view.  Last month the Garden State's Motor Vehicle Commission announced that Tesla Motors may only sell its cars in New Jersey via franchised automobile dealers.  (See this story in the New Jersey Star-Ledger describing the new rule).  The rule effectively bans Tesla's strategy of forward vertical integration.  Pursuant to this strategy, the firm operates two company-owned show rooms in the state, thereby "eliminating the middleman" and taking direct responsibility for explaining the virtues, limitations and prices of its products   Such vertical integration is a widespread practice, to say the very least. 

For the first several decades of the 20th Century, economists were hostile to most vertical integration, preferring the more fragmented market structure endorsed by New Jersey.  Indeed, as previously explained on this blog,

"[Early in the 20th Century] economists identified two, and only two, possible reasons for complete vertical integration. First, such integration could create technological efficiencies and thus reduce production costs. Second, integration could foreclose rivals from important sources of inputs, thereby creating or fortifying the integrating party's market power.  Thus, when economists, or, for that matter, antitrust courts or enforcement agencies, could not identify any efficiency purposes for such integration, they naturally inferred that the conduct was anticompetitive."

However, as Ronald Coase (pictured above) explained long ago, such vertical integration can produce other, non-technological benefits as well.  In particular, such integration can eliminate the costs of relying upon more decentralized markets, that is, "transacting," to conduct economic activity.  Such "transaction costs" can take many forms, including the risk that one's trading partner will engage in opportunistic behavior.  Indeed, Tesla recently asserted that franchised automobile dealers have a vested interest in promoting the sales of gasoline-powered automobiles over electric powered vehicles like Tesla's, with the result that reliance upon a system of franchised retailers will result in under-promotion of Teslas.

To be sure, franchised dealers can provide valuable services to consumers both before and after the purchase of a new or used automobile.   It is thus no surprise that many consumers prefer to purchase automobiles from such dealers instead of from other individuals or from Tesla.  However, such services are not free.  Instead, dealers quite properly pass along the costs of such services to consumers by marking up the price of the vehicle sold.   Apparently Tesla and some consumers believe that these additional services are not worth the additional price, leading both to embrace a different method of distribution.

As previously explained on this blog when discussing a (failed) effort in North Carolina to impose similar limits, free societies respect the rights of entrepreneurs and consumers to make such choices absent any apparent harm to third parties.  Moreover, given Telsa' tiny share of the automobile market there is no plausible risk that such integration is an anticompetitive tactic designed to gain or maintain market power.  It thus makes sense to interpret Tesla's innovative approach to marketing as an effort to minimize the cost distribution, a result that would enhance Tesla's welfare and the welfare of the consumers it serves.    Tesla's appraisal of the relative costs and benefits of relying upon its own show rooms instead of independent dealers may turn out to be incorrect, but free societies leave such decisions to firms and consumers, without coercive paternalistic intervention by state legislatures.  (See also this excellent discussion by Daniel Crane, on the Truth on the Market Blog last summer, that makes some similar points.)

Nonetheless, some continue to claim that such interference with basic economic freedoms serves legitimate purposes.  For instance, a recent story in CNN Money cites unnamed "advocates of the law" saying it aims "to encourage price competition and ensure customers have access to warranty and recall services."    Last week, 70 economists and law professors, including this blogger, signed a letter condemning the ban on Tesla's direct distribution.  The letter expressly considers the various rationales that proponents of the legislation have proffered and concludes, quite properly, that:

"We have not heard a single argument for a direct distribution ban that makes any sense.  To the contrary, these arguments simply bolster our belief that the regulations in question are motivated by economic protectionism that favors dealers at the expense of consumers and innovative technologies."

I should add that banning Tesla's preferred method of distribution may also protect other manufacturers of automobiles, by forcing Tesla to employ a more expensive and less effective method of distribution and thus discouraging procompetitive entry into the New Jersey market.  If so,  the ban may produce even more harm than initially supposed. 

Hopefully New Jersey will rethink  this unjustified interference with basic economic liberty.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Good Luck to the Tribe in the CAA Tournament!

First Baltimore and then ..... ???

Harbinger of Things to Come?

As most Tribe fans know, the CAA Tournament, which usually takes place in Richmond, has begun in earnest at the Baltimore Arena. (According to this story, the CAA has committed to holding the tournament in Baltimore, AKA "Charm City," for three years in a row.)   Let's hope the new and neutral venue is a good luck charm for the Tribe, which compiled an impressive 18-11 record this year (including a convincing win over JMU at Kaplan Arena), the fifth most season victories in team history. According to this story, the Tribe has appeared in two of the last five CAA championships, only to lose both times.  A victory in this year's championship game will earn the Tribe an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament, at a yet-undetermined location, the first such berth in school history.  Let's hope the Griffin gets a taste of "March Madness" after a successful trip to Charm City!

Update:  As many already know, the Tribe prevailed Saturday over the College of Charleston, 70-59, after trailing at half time.  (Go here for the box score.)  Today the Tribe takes on Towson State in the semi-finals.  Good luck to the Green and Gold! 

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Salute to the A-10


Last week the Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced a proposed budget that would leave America with the smallest Army since before WW II.  The budget will, among other things, retire the A-10 Thunderbolt attack jet from the Air Force after nearly four decades of service.  (For more details on the A-10, complete with additional photographs, go here.)

Also known as the "Warthog" or just "Hog," the subsonic and heavily armored A-10 provided close air support for U.S. troops during Operation Desert Storm (Iraq 1991), Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan 2001-) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003).  Fortunately, the Hog never performed the mission for which it was originally designed, namely, attacking Warsaw Pact tanks spearheading an invasion of Western Europe.   Instead, the A-10 and other improvements to NATO defenses deterred any such invasion.  (For fictional accounts of the A-10's role in the Cold War, see Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising (1986) and The Hunt for Red October (1984)).  Hopefully future defense budgets here and in allied nations will make the investments necessary to deter any future adversaries.
Of course, Secretary Hagel's proposal to retire the A-10 is just that, a proposal.  Congress, possesses the sole power to "raise and support armies" (see Article I, Section 8, cl. 12) and to spend "for the Common Defense" (see Article I, Section 8, cl. 1).  Thus, Congress can appropriate funds to extend the service of the A-10.  Even if Congress does not act, other nations could purchase the retired A-10s, and one Canadian commentator is suggesting that our ally to the north do exactly that.

In the meantime, this blogger salutes the A-10 and its pilots with some photos taken during a fly-by at the Richmond International Raceway on April 30, 2011.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Is Our Economic Freedom Slipping Away, and Can Competitive Federalism Reverse the Slide?


Less Free

Somewhere In Between

The Heritage Foundation recently released its annual "Index of Economic Freedom" for 2014, developed in partnership with the Wall Street Journal.  (See here).  Authors of the index measure each country's performance in ten different variables grouped into four different categories.  Here are the four different categories along with the variables assigned to each category.

1. Rule of Law (Property Rights and Freedom from Corruption);

2.  Limited Government (Fiscal Freedom and Government Spending);

3.  Regulatory Efficiency  (Business Freedom, Labor Freedom and Monetary Freedom);

4.  Open Markets   (Trade freedom, Investment Freedom and Financial Freedom)

Here are the top fifteen, along with their scores on the index in question.

1) Hong Kong:         90.1

2)  Singapore:         89.4

3)  Australia:           82.0

4)  Switzerland:        81.6

5)  New Zealand:      81.2

6)  Canada:              80.2

7)  Chile:                 79.7

8)  Mauritius:           76.5

9)  Ireland:               76.2

10) Denmark            76.1

11) Estonia               75.9

12)  USA                   75.5

13) Bahrain               75.1

14)  UK                     74.9

15)  Netherlands        74.2

The United States, which ranked number 6 in 2009, fell out of the top ten this year, continuing a slide that began several years ago.  (See here for the 2013 rankings, here for the 2011 rankings, and here for the 2009 rankings.)  The US now ranks 12, with a score of 75.5.

It should be noted that such national rankings can be imperfect proxies for the extent of economic freedom that individual citizens enjoy in political systems, like the United States (and Canada), characterized by competitive federalism.  By limiting the power of a national government and devolving power to individual states or provinces, federalism may result in varying degrees of economic freedom throughout a nation, as states embrace and implement different philosophies on taxes, spending and regulation.

Take the category of limited government, which the Index equates with low government spending and low taxes.  While the US national government taxes and spends more per capita than any individual state, there are significant differences between the states on these variables, differences with important implications for economic freedom as measured by the Heritage index.    In California, for instance, the top income tax rate is over 13 percent.  By contrast, some states (Washington, Nevada, South Dakota and Florida) have no income tax at all, and some states (New Hampshire and Tennessee), only levy income taxes on so-called "unearned" income, i.e., interest and dividends.  (For a visual representation of how top tax rates differ between the states, see here.)  Of course, the gap between top income tax rates can overstate the difference in tax burdens between various states, as some states might rely more heavily upon sales taxes than others, for instance.   Still, no one doubts that, as previously explained on this blog, states like California generally tax and spend more per capita than states with lower top income tax rates.

The category of regulatory efficiency, which includes labor freedom, provides another example.    As previously explained on this blog, Federal Labor Law once allowed companies and unions to agree to compel individuals to provide financial support for unions they do not wish to join as a condition of pursuing their chosen vocation.  Fortunately, the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act allows states to opt out of this law by declaring themselves "Right to Work" states.   Moreover, while federal law sets a minimum wage applicable to most employees in the United States, several states mandate even higher wages, further reducing the liberty of employers and employees to strike bargains in their mutual best interest.   As a result, the extent of "labor freedom" differs significantly from state to state.    Some states (e.g. Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee) have no minimum wage at all and have declared themselves "Right to Work" states, thus maximizing labor freedom to the extent possible given federal law.  (See here for a summary of minimum wage laws in the 50 states and here for a list of Right to Work states.)    Other states, e.g., New York and California, have imposed minimum wages that are higher than the Federal minimum and also declined to recognize their citizens' right to decline to support a union.  Some states are "in between," having declared themselves "Right to Work" states while still imposing a minimum wage.  Virginia is one example of such a state.  The Commonwealth is a Right to Work state but also imposes a minimum wage on employers not subject to federal law (with numerous exceptions) equal to the federal minimum.  Ditto for South Dakota.

It therefore appears that the extent of economic freedom varies significantly among various American states. Indeed, some have attempted to document this variation, albeit with somewhat different metrics than those employed by the Heritage Foundation Index.  For instance, the Mercatus Foundation affiliated with George Mason University has published the results of a study of "Freedom in the 50 States."  The report assesses various aspects of freedom on a state-by-state basis, including "economic freedom," "regulatory policy," "tax burden," and "fiscal policy."  It is no surprise that states like California and New York do quite poorly in these measures.  New York (whose flag is pictured above), for instance, is tied for last in economic freedom, 48th in regulatory policy and tied for last in both tax burden and fiscal policy.  By contrast, states like South Dakota, Virginia, and Tennessee perform very well on all such metrics.

As a result, the Heritage Index  likely overstates the extent of economic freedom enjoyed by Americans who live in states such as California and New York, while understating the extent of such freedom in states like Virginia, South Dakota and Tennessee, to name a few.

Some may wonder why, if economic freedom is so valuable, states such as California and New York are able to maintain their freedom-reducing policies in the face of competition from states such as Virginia, South Dakota and Tennessee.  Put another way, why has competitive federalism not prevented America's slide from 6th to 12th in the Heritage survey?  The answer is simple.   Competitive federalism requires limits on the scope of national power and an appropriate division of responsibility between states and the national government.  Where, by contrast, the national government exceeds its authority, imposing uniform solutions to local problems, states face distorted incentives, thereby undermining to some extent the operation of competitive federalism and unduly restricting economic freedom.

Take the minimum wage as an example.  Absent a national minimum wage, states would internalize the benefits of deregulating wage rates, attracting businesses that create jobs and individuals who want them.  However, in the United States, the national government has imposed a minimum wage that governs purely local businesses, so long as they generate sales of $500,000 annually, produce goods or services for interstate commerce, or handle, sell or work on goods that have moved in interstate commerce.  (See here for a description of the reach of the national minimum wage.)  Thus, a state that eliminates its own minimum wage will impact only a fraction of actual or potential business within its boundaries.  By contrast, states that maintain minimum wages equal to or slightly higher than the national minimum wage will risk losing very few employers to other states.   In the same way, the National Labor Relations Act, which authorizes the formation of labor cartels known as unions in purely local commerce, presumably preempts state laws that would treat such collective bargaining as unlawful price fixing.  Here again, national law discourages would-be state efforts to remove restraints --- in this case private restraints --- from the labor market so as to attract capital and productive citizens from other states. 

Federal tax policy also distorts competitive federalism.  In particular, the federal tax code allows citizens to deduct state taxes from their federal taxable income, thereby offsetting, in part, the impact of increased state income taxes.  As my colleague Nate Oman has explained, this provision allows states to export a portion of their costs to other states.  Moreover, as previously explained on this blog, the ability to export such costs insulates high tax states from the rigors of interstate rivalry.  After all, citizens in states such as California receive all of the benefits of new state spending while only paying part of the cost.  As a result, these citizens are less likely to exit such states despite what appear to be oppressive tax policies.  By contrast, states that reduce their taxes internalize only a portion of the benefits of doing so, as their citizens must pay higher federal taxes as a result.  Thus, when it comes to fiscal policy, the national government has distorted the "rules of the game" in a way that advantages high tax states vis a vis those that exercise fiscal restraint, thereby biasing the results of interstate competition against economic freedom as measured by the Heritage Foundation Index.

To be sure, basic principles of political economy teach us that states lack the appropriate incentives to address economic activity that produces significant and direct harmful or beneficial impacts on more than one state.  We should not, for instance, rely upon individual states to pass upon mergers between interstate railroads or set the rates for interstate carriage of goods.  See Northern Securities Co. v. United States, 193 U.S. 197 (1904) (holding that merger to monopoly between interstate railroads violated the Sherman Act regardless of the transaction's legality under state law); Wabash, St. Louis and Pacific Railway Co. v. Illinois, 118 U.S. 557 (1886) (voiding one state's attempt to regulate interstate railroad rates).  However, as the examples discussed in the previous paragraph demonstrate, much national legislation greatly exceeds this justification, regulating private conduct that produces few if any interstate spillovers or subsidizing purely local spending.    (For instance, it's not clear how low market wages in, say, Virginia produce harmful "spillovers" into other states.)   Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has often upheld such legislation, giving undue deference to the political branches' determination that the regulated conduct has significant impact negative impact in more than one state.  Until the national government confines its legislation to those activities beyond the regulatory competence of individual states, competitive federalism will not realize its potential to promote the economic freedom of the nation's citizens.     

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Senator Paul Steps Up

Fortunately Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky (pictured above) stepped up to the plate earlier this week, repudiating hateful and disgusting remarks (which this blog will not dignify with a quotation) about President Obama by one-hit wonder Ted Nugent.   Here, according to Politico, is Senator Paul's statement:

"Ted Nugent’s derogatory description of President Obama is offensive and has no place in politics. He should apologize."

Well said, Senator Paul. 

In Praise of (Fettered) Capitalism, AKA Freedom

Opposes Unregulated Capitalism

Language in the first Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, "Evangelii Gaudium," ("The Joy of the Gospel"),  has fueled the never-ending debate about the relative merits of alternative economic systems.  In particular, commentators on various parts of the political spectrum have critiqued or praised the Holy Father's supposed condemnation of "unfettered capitalism."   From the Right, Walter Williams has taken issue with the Pope's supposed claim that "unfettered capitalism" is "a new tyranny."   From the Left, John Nichols of the Nation has praised this supposed claim, asserting that the Pontiff has given an articulate voice to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which the Pope did not mention.  Numerous other commentators have also weighed in about the Pope's supposed comments.  (See here, here and here for examples).  One pundit even declared that "Liberation Theology is Back."   None of these pundits, so far as I am aware, has actually defined "capitalism" or "unfettered capitalism."
Ironically, as others have pointed out, the document does not include the word "unfettered" or "capitalism."  Instead, the Exhortation refers to the "absolute autonomy of the marketplace," which it blames for a widening income gap between rich and poor.  (See Evangelii Gaudium, 2.I.56 and 4.II.202).  Nonetheless, the term "unfettered capitalism" has taken on a life of its own and will likely play a significant role in our public discourse.  It therefore makes sense to develop a working definition of the phrase so as to facilitate a useful public discussion of the merits and demerits of "unfettered capitalism" and various alternative economic systems.  As will be seen, most proponents of free markets support some "fetters" on such freedom, fetters that help channel individual initiative in socially useful directions.  Thus, instead of deciding between a world with "fetters" or "no fetters," societies that wish to advance economic justice must choose among various possible fetters, some of which help create wealth and opportunity and some of which destroy both.

But first, it should be noted that the term "capitalism" is itself a misnomer that often adds little to public discourse.  (Perhaps this explains why the Holy Father, pictured above in a photo taken by the official Brazilian press agency (see here), does not employ the term.)  As Frank Knight once explained, the free market is the natural result of society's recognition of private property, including each individual's ownership of his or her own labor.  Such ownership, Knight said is "a synonym for individual freedom," freedom that includes the right to exchange such property with a willing buyer.  See Frank H. Knight, Risk, Uncertainty and Profit, at 56-57 (1921).  Thus, what pundits call "capitalism" is often just a synonym for "freedom" or "liberty."  This is not always true, however.  In some cases systems that pundits call "capitalism" entail significant intrusions on liberty and property inconsistent with any plausible conception of freedom or liberty, as seen below.

With this caveat in mind,  here are several possible definitions of "capitalism," fettered and unfettered.

1.  Capitalism as State of Nature.  Under this model, there is no State.  Each individual is entirely free to acquire as much property as he or she can, whether by manual labor, trade, invention, or theft from others.    Having acquired such property, an individual can only retain it if he or she can ward off others who seek to acquire it by force. 

2.  Capitalism as the Common Law Baseline: Under this model, individuals reject the State of Nature and form a State so as to enhance the security of their persons and property.  The State, in turn, employs coercion (jail time, criminal fines and monetary damages) to deter and prevent individuals from harming others or invading others' property.  The State may also allow individuals to employ reasonable private force to defend their persons and property from invasion by others.   Such a society may entail less liberty in some sense than the State of Nature, as individuals are not "free" to injure others or steal others' property and suffer state-backed coercion if they do.  However, individuals may still prefer such a society to the State of Nature, because what liberty and property they do possess can be more secure and result in more prosperity, assuming, of course, that the State respects the Rule of Law and avoids arbitrary and selective enforcement of this baseline.   

3.  Capitalism as Wealth Maximization:  Under this model, the State employs coercion to enforce the common law baseline described in Model 2, above.  The State also employs coercion when necessary to overcome market failures that may arise because transaction costs prevent a wealth-maximizing allocation of resources.  Examples include contract law, which reduces the cost of transacting and thus facilitates wealth creation, corporate law, which facilitates the creation of large scale enterprises,  patent law, which ensures that individuals who invest in innovation can reap the rewards of doing so, and antitrust law, which prevents market actors from exercising market power that is not necessary to achieve efficiencies.  Such regulations steer individual conduct and initiative in wealth-creating directions.  This model also justifies expenditures on public goods such as national defense and education, because private actors will not be able to capture the benefits of investments in such goods and thus will under invest in their production.  This model also justifies state expenditures on public works such as highways and harbors, projects that private enterprises may not undertake because transaction costs make it difficult to employ the private market to amass property from numerous individual owners.   Finally, this model would empower the State to conduct macroeconomic stabilization policy, e.g., raising taxes and/or reducing public spending to slow an overheating economy and cutting taxes and/or increasing spending to stimulate a slow one. 

    It should be noted that the distributional consequences of Model 3 will depend upon how the State raises the revenue to pay for various public goods and public works, for instance.  The State could simply divide the cost of such expenditures equally among all of its adult citizens, in which case the distributional consequences could be neutral, depending upon how the State distributes its expenditures.  If, however, the States relies upon a sales tax or an income tax, for instance, Model 3 will redistribute income from rich to poor.  (An individual who pays the State 10 percent of a $100 million income will pay for a much larger share of the State's expenditures than one who pays 10 percent of a $10,000 income.  Unless the State spends 10,000 times more on public goods for the former individual than the latter, reliance on this "flat tax" to fund the State will redistribute income to individuals of modest means.  In the same way, so long as wealthy citizens spend more on consumption than those who are poor, the wealthy will pay more taxes under a sales tax regime, thereby resulting in possible redistribution.)

4.  Capitalism as Utility or Welfare Maximization.  Under this model, the State enforces the common law baseline and also employs coercion when necessary to overcome market failure, as in Model 3 above.  Operating within such a framework, individuals may, alone or in association with others, create great wealth.  Under Model 4, the State also relies upon coercive taxation to redistribute a portion of such wealth from well-to-do individuals to those who are less well off.   While the taxation necessary to accomplish such redistribution will reduce incentives to create wealth in the first place, the result might be an increase in overall welfare, i.e., society's total utility, assuming there is a diminishing marginal utility of wealth.    For instance, redistributing $100,000 from the annual income of a wealthy individual to ten poor persons could increase society's overall utility, if one assumes that these persons collectively derive more utility from that $100,000 than the wealthy individual would forgo because of the redistribution.   Model 4 is truly a "Welfare State," insofar as the State employs its legal and regulatory machinery with one goal --- enhancing society's overall welfare --- in mind.

5.  Corporatism Confused With Capitalism.  Under this system, the State enforces the common law baseline, employs coercion to overcome market failure and spends resources on public goods.  The State may also  engage in redistributive taxation in an effort to increase society's total welfare.  In addition, however, the State also structures taxes, subsidies and regulations so as to encourage particular industries and/or firms within such industries.  Often such rules might favor large, capital-intensive firms over smaller, labor intensive firms, thereby raising barriers to entry and fortifying the market power of incumbents.  See generally Oliver E. Williamson, Wage Rates as Barriers to Entry: The Pennington Case in Perspective, 82 Q. J. Econ. 85, 91-98 (1968) (explaining how imposition of minimum wages industry-wide can disadvantage smaller, labor-intensive firms).   The State may even reserve to itself the authority to approve entry into particular markets, consulting marketplace incumbents before allowing such entry.  The requirement that new entrants into the hospital market obtain a so-called "certificate of need" is one such example, discussed previously on this blog.      The State may also adopt rules, including exemptions from antitrust laws, that encourage the formation and operation of labor cartels known as unions, cartels that seek to obtain a portion of any market power that their employers possess.  Such cartels can rarely thrive, however, unless the State also prevents free entry into the industries subject to such labor cartels.  See generally Michael L. Wachter, Labor Unions, A Corporatist Institution in a Competitive World, 155 U. Penn. L. Rev. 581, 601-604 (2007) (describing NIRA’s support for collective bargaining).   Indeed, once society recognizes as legitimate legislation that bestows economic benefits on some at the expense of others, consciously picking economic winners and losers, economic actors will rationally invest scarce resources attempting to influence political decision makers to enact more and more such legislation.  Such "rent seeking," of course, diverts valuable economic resources away from productive economic activities that would otherwise increase society's overall wealth.   As previously explained on this blog, James Madison claimed that societies that consistently allow such legislation are akin to the State of Nature, given that both such societies allow the strong to united to oppress the weak.

* * * * *

The United States is perhaps best described as a mix of Models 4 and 5, with some Socialism thrown in "to boot."  For instance, the Constitution, at least as interpreted by the Courts and the political branches, empowers states and the national government to restrain economic liberty for the sole purpose of enriching some industries or groups of individuals at the expense of others.  (But see here for a discussion of a recent decision in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejecting such rent seeking as a valid basis for interfering with economic liberty.)     Certificate of need laws and unions are quintessential examples.  Ditto for the regulation of taxi cab markets, of all things.  In addition, states and the national government sometimes own the means of production themselves, the very definition of Socialism.  For instance, all states own and operate one or more colleges or universities, ownership that is not necessary to ensure an appropriate investment in education.  (States could, instead, simply provide their college-aged citizens with vouchers, as explained here with respect to primary and secondary schools.)  Moreover, the national government once owned General Motors, after an ill-advised bailout of two automobile manufacturers whose products have failed in the marketplace.         At the same time, governments do not always exercise their power to restrain economic liberty or own the means of production, partly because of a political culture that values competition, and partly because competitive federalism deters individual states from adopting policies that drive capital and productive citizens to migrate to other states.

Of these five models, only Models 1 and 2 can be characterized as "unfettered capitalism."  Model 3 empowers the State to impose any number of harm-reducing regulations ("fetters") and to "tax and spend" so as to produce various public goods, including education.    Moreover, Model 4 expressly empowers the State to employ additional coercion to redistribute wealth from some individuals to others.   Model 5 empowers the State to favor some industries or firms over others, favoritism that necessarily restricts the liberty of those firms and individuals not favored.  Model 5 also empowers the State to compel firms to recognize and bargain with labor cartels also known as unions. 

Very few individuals advocate Models 1 or 2 as organizing principles for an economic system.   Instead, most individuals, including most who support "limited government" or some synonym thereof, embrace Model 3 or even Model 4.  For instance, most prefer a world in which the State imposes the "fetters" necessary to protect individuals from others' harmful exercise of property rights and vice versa.  Most also prefer a world in which the State expends the resources necessary to produce public goods, using coercive taxation to raise the necessary revenue.  As noted above, States that rely upon a flat income tax, for instance, to fund such goods will redistribute income from the wealthy to the less well-to-do.  Finally, many proponents of limited government also endorse expenditures to provide the poor with basic services, education and even enough income to lift such individuals out of poverty and into the middle class.  For instance, Milton Friedman (pictured above at a White House ceremony), always a proponent of limited government, advocated both a negative income tax and school vouchers, both of which redistribute income from some to others.   See e.g. Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, 191-94 (1962) (advocating the negative income tax) id. at 85-100 (discussing proper government role in education).  See also this discussion of the negative income tax between Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley. 

In short, most members of society, whether they be Progressive, Conservative or even Libertarian, agree that Capitalism or individual freedom should be fettered in some way.  The much harder question is how many and what sort of fetters the State should impose.  It should also be clear that "not all fetters are created equal."  Some coercive regulations clearly enhance society's welfare, while others plainly reduce it.  Moreover, we must never lose sight of the fact that robust free markets produce the very wealth that many wish to redistribute to the less fortunate.  A society of "haves" and "have nots" may well be more just than a society in which everyone is (equally) destitute, particularly if the State uses its powers of taxation to redistribute some income from rich to poor.  As previously explained on this blog, individuals who create massive fortunes for themselves often do so by simultaneously enhancing the welfare of countless others, even before the State imposes redistributive taxes.   Finally, the existence of significant poverty in a nation such as the United States that allows some economic freedom does not thereby justify any and all additional restrictions purportedly designed to reduce poverty.  Instead, such poverty may be the predictable result of fetters already in place, the removal of which may actually increase wealth, opportunity and employment.  Labor cartels, minimum wages and state-protected monopolies are obvious examples of such wealth-destroying fetters that reduce opportunity and increase poverty.