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Is there an actual conservative alternative to markets?

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After the second World War, support for free markets and modern conservatism became more prominent—and both were often interlinked. But skepticism, if not outright rejection, of free markets has remained an undercurrent in a large section of the conservative movement. This has become increasingly noticeable in the past few years as many on the right have rushed to embrace statist ideologies, such as nationalism and populism.

Yet while criticisms abound, there are few workable alternatives being offered by conservatives to replace markets. As James R. Rogers observes,

Much of the new conservative criticism of markets misses the mark, conflating “modern economy” with “market economy.” However, the key attributes of modern economies exist irrespective whether those economies are organized using markets or not. This matters. When conservatives blame markets for illnesses generic to all modern economies, they misdiagnose the cause and therefore prescribe faulty remedies.

For example, shifts in the terms of international trade resulting from shifts in comparative national advantages or changes in the cost of trade will occur no matter the underlying organization of the internal economies of the different countries. Unless conservative critics of markets recommend economic autarky—no international trade at all—then even economies organized entirely on non-market bases would face economic dislocation akin to market economies wherever shifts in production or transaction costs occur.

So, too, changes in production resulting from technological change. The invention of the computer chip, for example, changed demand for all sorts of workers—and this happens irrespective of whether markets allocate labor or whether some non-market alternative allocates labor.

None of these economic dislocations would be avoided by eliminating or muting markets in an economy.

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Image source: Max Pixel

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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