There are generally two views of markets. The first is that markets can do no wrong. The other is that markets fail—and fail often—which is why we need government intervention. But as Nick Schulz and Arnold Kling note, there is a third way that can be summarized as “Markets fail. That’s why we need markets.”
Over the past two generations, a different view of markets and government has begun to emerge, one whose moment may have arrived. It is a view that believes both traditional camps have overlooked some important aspects of markets.
What’s more, it is a view that, if embraced, helps reinterpret market gyrations and government interventions in a way that better reflects reality. The view is subtle, but it has a profound influence on how the public and policymakers should think of markets and, ultimately, the role of government in the economy.
This view can be summarized as “Markets fail. That’s why we need markets.”
This seemingly paradoxical view is based on several overlapping strands of research in economics as it pertains to development, history, technology, business expansion, and new-firm formation. According to this view, entrepreneurs at work in the economy–in finance, high tech, manufacturing, services, and beyond–are constantly experimenting, creating new business models, techniques, and technologies that upend the established order of things.
Some new technologies and innovations are genuine improvements and are long-lasting welfare enhancers. But others are the basketball equivalent of pump fakes–they look like the real deal and prompt market actors to leap hastily into action, only to realize later that their bets were wrong.
Given this dynamic, markets are unpredictable, prone to booms and busts, characterized by bouts of exuberance that are rational or irrational only in hindsight.
But markets are also the only reliable mechanism for sorting out this messy process quickly. In spite of the booms and busts, markets drive genuine long-run innovation and wealth creation.
When governments attempt to impose order on this chaotic and inherently risky process, they immediately run up against two serious dangers.