The Cult of Market Fundamentalism

A “classic” for the Fourth of July. While Trump doesn’t follow the dogma exactly when it comes to free trade (for better or worse, probably worse), he and most Republicans in Congress do seem to be true believers in this peculiar form of witchcraft (no disrespect intended to Wiccan readers).

The first step of confronting the problem is to name it. “Market fundamentalism,” a term I picked up from George Lakoff, should be a buzzphrase on the tips of everyone’s lips. It has become THE defining force — paired with racism — of Americans’ economic lives. Pundits and Democratic politicians should be throwing this concept around, ridiculing it like the joke it is. Instead, we’re fixated on the right-wing term ”political correctness,” which blinds us to the real problems facing America. Swap these two out and you change the playing field.


  • InheritTheWindow

    I see as much villainization of free trade from the left as I do reverence from the right. Free trade is a component of capitalism, which is objectively the most successful institution for creating wealth and improving lives in modern history (this is true despite the problems with poorly regulated capitalism).

    Yes, trade can be destructive to communities and industries, but never without major improvement elsewhere. It’s our responsibility to use the extra wealth to take care of the people who are displaced, and that’s where our abject failure lies.

    • ACounter

      Do you have a source for your assertion that capitalism is “objectively the most successful institution for creating wealth and improving lives in modern history?”
      And I don’t mean the Wall Street Journal.

      • InheritTheWindow

        I looked around for a tidy source and couldn’t find one. But I challenge you to name another institution that has done a better job at creating wealth and improving living standards than capitalism. And yes, this applies to all members of a society, from bottom to top. The people at the bottom don’t fall further behind, they just improve more slowly.

        Yes, capitalism needs to be helped along by supportive governments, but the underlying source of wealth and improvement in living standards comes from capitalism. Even generally socialist governments like the Scandinavian countries rely on it.

        Jen’s cartoon is accurate insofar as free market fundamentalists practically deify capitalism, which usually leads to the misguided stance that all regulation is bad regulation. I don’t agree with that at all! But especially since Occupy Wall St I have seen the reverse train of thought emerging from the left: that the free market, especially free trade, is harmful. I don’t agree with this either.

        • ThorstenV

          “But I challenge you to name another institution that has done a better job at creating wealth and improving living standards than capitalism.”


          I’m not in favour of a technocracy. Science can deliver results, but we still have to decide, if we actually want this results. But first we have to have the ability to get results. A heart of gold without strong arms doesn’t get you very far.

          “The people at the bottom don’t fall further behind, they just improve more slowly.”

          But you don’t get a society for free. It puts a burden on everyone. You can’t just go into the woods, because the woods belong to someone and you can’t just put up your tent everywhere, because there is regulation against this and this regulation is enforced. So you need an apartment. So you need food and clothing. So you need money. So you need a job. Emphases on need. So you take that backbreaking job on that factory where unions, safety regulations and environmental protection are considered a foreign myth, probably invented by the Chinese because they Hate America. The pay is just as low as the owners responsibility for his workers. Anyway that poor guy needs the money himself and urgently for the Super-PAC which makes sure, that everything stays the good old American way I just described. With little money, you only can afford an apartment downwind of the chimneys of the said and other factories. Your drinking water basically comes out of their sewage. Your health care plan oh I was just kidding of course. No such thing. Is this enough description to suggest, that maybe you would have been better of living in the woods?

          But there’s more. We haven’t talked about food and clothing yet. Only being able to afford the cheapest one here as well, makes you basically an unwilling but effective accomplice to spread your lifestyle to other workers, who have to provide you with your needs, not only those in America but also abroad. So you see, it all works out. The Chinese finally get it. Trying to swindle us smart folks! This will teach them.

          “Even generally socialist governments like the Scandinavian countries rely on it.”

          So Capitalism exists under socialism? This seems to be an awful wide definition of capitalism. Even free market enthusiast get it right every time, if you allow for some modification

          From my experience, if you often debate this people, it is really hard to pin them down on what they actually mean. Mostly they choose to believe, that my constant questioning has some hidden agenda and that I don’t want to understand. Describing them as cultists seems fitting. I have no convincing solution for this.

        • Conor Doherty

          Scandinavian countries are not “generally socialist”. If you believe that they can be so described, your understanding of the term “socialist” is simply wrong and/or you don’t really know all that much about the resolutely capitalistic Scandinavian countries. They are capitalist economies and quite good at it too.
          Capitalism is not coterminous with the free market. Markets existed long before capitalism, in various forms, perhaps for as long as human societies have functioned. Capitalism is the system distinguished by the accumulation of surplus production as capital. It is not synonymous with free trade nor is free trade in it’s fundamentalist guise a necessary, or even historically dominant, form.

    • Viktor DoKaren

      First, apart from the words “free your trade”, I don’t see anything in this strip that is a “villainization of free trade”. It’s obviously lampooning the “cult of capitalism” which is not limited to a ‘left’ or ‘right’. While I cannot speak for all of the “left”, I do not believe there is any serious complaint about “free trade”; the problem is this “free trade” is not so free. And the “cult of capitalism” is preventing us from reasonable discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of capitalism. Any system based more on ideology than effectiveness is seriously flawed.

    • Stevie Ray Vaughn

      Capitalism is built on inequality. When rich countries like the US plunder and pillage the natural resources of poorer countries, for example. Then we are supposed to take care of the people who’s land and resources we have just gutted? Why not just NOT gut other countries in search of never ending capitalistic wealth in the first place? Capitalism is a cancer on humanity.

      • InheritTheWindow

        You can have capitalism without plunder. Unfortunately, the greed of the worst of us makes it hard to do. But it is doable.

  • ThorstenV

    One has to admit, that drinking the Kool-Aid is refreshing. At the very first moment that is.

  • ThorstenV

    What impresses me most, is actual workers who
    a) believe in free market principles
    and at the same time complain about all this
    b) lazybones which get pampered by the state, live on welfare and what not.

    Let as assume for the moment, that both is true.

    b) tells us, that everyone can drop out of the workforce and have a nice state-sponsored life. Leaving alone for the moment why the complainer himself doesn’t so, if it’s such a piece of cake, let us only look at the consequences this has on the workforce as a whole. In market terms, if people drop out, the supply decreases. According to a) market principles this should lead to higher prices for the for the commodity i.e. for work. So I totally understand the logic of every employer to oppose anything which could make people drop out of the workforce and wanting full force on pressing them back into it by any means. But why should workers, whose pay increases with every deadbat there is, demand harder measures on them?

    Probably I’m just to stupid to see the Deeper sense this all surely does make. Should go and learn from some Real Scientist like Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart who know how to handle their spreadsheets.

Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer Finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.