A completely free, capitalist economy has never existed anywhere in the world. The closest the world came to a free market was during the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain and during the late 19th century in the United States. The Industrial Revolution was a period of unprecedented economic growth and unimaginable improvements in quality of life. In less than two hundred years, the life of most people in the Western world changed from a a short life filled with poverty, plague, and near-constant war to a modern life that even the kings of medieval Europe couldn’t have imagined. This miracle was made possible by the philosophical and political ideals formed during the Enlightenment, and the freedoms demanded and fought by the philosophers, statesmen, and entrepreneurs of Western civilization. Yet the Enlightenment also laid the sees for the collectivist and materialist ideology behind socialism, which struck the first major blow against capitalism with the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890.
The rise of interventionism
The assault on free markets was intensified by Herbert Hoover, who imposed unprecedented regulations of Wall Street to eliminate "vicious speculation", regulated labor markets, and created government works programs. Roosevelt inherited these programs and created numerous government agencies which made the financial industry the single most regulated industry in the economy and turned an economic recession into the Great Depression. The Federal Reserve was supposed to stabilize the currency, the FDIC was supposed to prevent bank runs, the SEC was supposed to be stop shady investments, Fannie May and Freddie Mac were supposed to make homes affordable to everyone. Yet these restrictions on capitalism had the opposite effect of their intended purpose: the dollar has lost 95% of it’s value, the SEC is the main cause of corruption in Wall Street, and housing prices are unstable and highly inflated.
Interventionism is a cycle of wealth destruction
Economic interventionism, also known as statism, exists in every mixed economy – a society in which the government interferes with market economy. In an interventionist economy, the state takes wealth away from from some enterprises and transfers it to other organizations or individuals. Whether it does so through taxation, corporate welfare and bailouts, monopoly privileges, wage and price controls, trade restrictions and tariffs, currency inflation, antitrust regulations, state-ownership of businesses, or "make work" programs, the effect is the same: to punish virtue and competence and reward vice and waste.
All the values created by a business are possible only because its customers value them sufficiently to pay for them. To the extent that any individuals voluntarily exchange value for value without harming anyone else, their actions benefit themselves and harm no one. However, in an interventionist state, the product of those individuals is seized and transferred to those who did not earn it. This is a vicious cycle, because it rewards those in the public and private sector who manipulate the state to seize unearned benefits and punishes the productive individuals who focus on creating values and create products and services that consumers want.
The more the looters seize, the fewer wealth is available to producers. The more productive businesses fail or move elsewhere, the heaver the burden is on those who remain. The more money is taken from the producers, the greater the incentive for the lazy to skim from their labor. When the burden of stealing sufficient wealth outright becomes too unpopular, politicians resort to stealing it by printing money, until the currency of the country becomes worthless, trade becomes impossible, and productive activity grounds to a halt. Inevitably, it is the executives of the productive businesses who politicians blame for the crisis their own policies created.
Entrepreneurs and CEO’s are the unrecognized heroes of the modern world
Capitalism cannot guarantee that all our needs will be provided for – no system can turn mere wishes into reality. But it does give entrepreneurs the incentive to compete to provide the best possible service they can. The brief flowering of freedom during the 19th century created the wealthy, industrial society in which we now live in – but it is being destroyed from within by the collectivist ideology of interventionism. When political connections rather than consumers decide who is allowed what values should be created, entrepreneurs have no incentive to improve their products or to try bold new techniques, and instead spend their resources trying to bribe politicians. Politicians can force prices to be artificially low, but they cannot lower costs or substitute for the creative risk taking that drives the economy – they can only drive the remaining wealth creators out of existence.
Note: this page was based on The One Minute Case Against Interventionism, which is in the public domain and was kindly provided by David Veksler - big thanks to him!