In 2014, Steve Rogers had the Super Soldier Serum removed from his body. This caused him to return to his natural age (very old). Because of this, he passed on the title of Captain America to his longtime friend and partner, Sam Wilson (Falcon). In a world focused on identity politics, this was a big deal because Sam is black. Marvel often uses the Captain America series to tackle political topics and by switching Captains they were able to adjust the viewpoint of their Captain America.
For those of you who may not be a comic reader, many comics use storytelling that span many issues known as story arcs. The first arc in Captain America: Sam Wilson (2015) starts out with the immigration issue, but becomes a story of the evils of Big Business. Captain America finds out that the violence at the border is actually caused by a company called Serpent Solutions. Serpent Solutions is supposed to be a group of super villains attempt at “going legit.” Their business model seems to be create products by any means necessary (kidnapping, human experiments, and murder) and then sell the patents to big corporations.
Now, I think most people would easily agree this is a bad practice. Captain America is right to put a stop to Serpent Solutions and the corporations who turn a blind eye to their practices and profit from using their “services.” My issue though is that while these are bad people, the buzz words and justifications used by the bad guys connect their philosophy with that of capitalism, free markets, and liberty. They even outright name Ayn Rand, as seen below.
Not once throughout the arc is this distortion of what capitalism is refuted for the perversion that it is. The reader is only presented with the villain’s philosophy being tied to Ayn Rand, corporations, and Donald Trump (“make America Marvelous again”). So, I am going to take this opportunity to enlighten people about what a Free Market is and is not.
There are many terms that all roughly describe the same thing. Free market, free enterprise, capitalism, laissez-faire are all examples of the basic idea of an economy grounded in private property and little government control. As an example of this idea, I will use an excerpt from Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, since she was called out by Marvel in this story.
“I work for nothing but my own profit- which I make by selling a product they need to men who are willing and able to buy it. I do not produce it for their benefit at the expense of mine, and they do not buy it for my benefit at the expense of theirs; I do not sacrifice my interests to them nor do they sacrifice theirs to me; we deal as equals by mutual consent to mutual advantage-and I am proud of every penny that I have earned in this manner… I have made my money by my own effort, in free exchange and through the voluntary consent of every man I dealt with-the voluntary consent of those who employed me when I started, the voluntary consent of those who work for me now, the voluntary consent of those who buy my product… I could say to you that you do not serve the public good-that nobody’s good can be achieved at the price of human sacrifices-that when you violate the rights of one man, you have violated the rights of all man, and a public of rightless creatures is doomed to destruction.”
At the beginning of this passage, you may think Marvel had the right idea. That is until the phrase, “mutual consent,” is used. It is that spirit that continues on through the rest of the passage. The idea of consent and voluntarism. That is the heart of the Free Market. The ability to decide for yourself what you want to do with your own property.
So, let’s look at what Serpent Solutions and the companies who hired them were doing. They were kidnapping people. That is, they took people by force without their consent. They experimented on them without their consent. They murdered people. That is, they forcefully ended the lives of others. All of this action is the violation of people’s rights. Clearly, these actions are not what Ayn Rand promoted.
But what about some of the other things Viper talks about when trying to justify his actions to Captain America? He brings up regulations and asks, “where in the Constitution is anyone promised clean air?” This is a common straw man when discussing over regulation. Why are people concerned with air pollution? Because it causes harm. It violates the rights of others and therefore is not in keeping with Free Market principles. There are valid policy questions about preventative measures (regulation) vs. reactive measures (prosecution/lawsuits), but those questions do not invalidate the Free Market as a whole. Viper, during a sales pitch, talks about how the people he is talking to are not bad guys and lists some of their activities like corporate bailouts, corruption, and corporate welfare. These too are not Free Market friendly practices. Corporate bailouts and welfare is money gained, not through the market, but rather taken from the government who gained possession of it by force. Corruption is a much broader term, but in the terms of government, corruption is using the government to get an advantage rather than competing in the market without force. Corruption in business also violates consent in cases like fraud. Changing the terms of a deal, removes consent until that knowledge is shared by all involved.
Now I want to take a step back to the bailouts and welfare. There are those who consider themselves capitalists who will take government money to prop up their business. This could be anyone from a major bank down to a farmer. This is known as Crony Capitalism or in extreme cases could be considered Corporatism. These are not in line with the Free Market. Even though they may seem like it because the people participating are acting in their own interests, the force of government must violate the rights of others in order to act this way. So before blaming the Free Market, ask yourself, “How is the government involved in this?” If you can find a path from the government to the problem, you don’t have a problem with Free Markets, you have a problem with government. A general rule of thumb is, “If the government is involved or violence or the threat of violence is being used, it is not the Free Market/Capitalism/Free Enterprise.”
P.S. Charity is voluntary and therefore aligns with and I would say is necessary for Free Markets.