Letter: Freedom not provided by the free market

In his recent column, Matthew Shaffer ’10 expresses his skepticism toward health care reform, expounds the glory of markets and defends the Tea Party movement. As I read the piece, I couldn’t help but disagree with almost everything he said.

He begins by asserting that people are inclined toward progressive ideas because they are shortsighted: They can feel the sting of current evils, he says, but are further removed from the intangible evils of tomorrow. But Shaffer seems to forget other draws of contemporary progessivism such as evidence-based policy. From environmental and consumer protection to regulatory and health care reform, progressives are about pragmatic solutions. The reason people trust health care reform is because of the tremendous mountains of evidence from both within the United States and overseas which demonstrate that so-called socialized medicine is cheaper, more inclusive and of higher quality than alternatives.

It isn’t a matter of trusting the government’s intentions; it’s a matter of gauging the facts and thinking critically.

Shaffer waxes poetic about the prowess of the free market and tells the cute anecdote of Albany, where a prosperous economy was ruined by legislative corruption and government intervention. That’s great, but I have a better one: the Enron Scandal. Freed from the control of government surveillance, Enron illegal accounting practices defrauded investors and led to the then-biggest bankruptcy in American history and the California energy crisis. Seven years later, the same lack of oversight by regulatory agencies caused the second biggest economic downturn in American history, a financial crisis that would only have gotten worse had it not been for — you guessed it — government intervention.

Regulation does not have to mean domination. Even progressives aren’t arguing against the unrivaled benefits of competition. It’s merely that the competition needs to be fair.

The American people want a government that protects their liberty and their right to pursue happiness. They want autonomy, agency and the ability to exercise their freedom. You’re not really free when the weight of medical bills drives you to bankruptcy. Ultimately, greater control by government won’t turn us into “serfs,” but widespread inequality and lack of accountability among the most prosperous will keep serfdom alive.

More than 200 years ago, the founding fathers promised to guarantee the American people a better life by establishing a government that would provide for the general welfare, secure the blessings of liberty and was dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal.

I say we stick to that.

Matthias Otto

March 26

The writer is a senior in Davenport College


  • Yale 08

    I love the Enron example.

    It proves the letter’s author WRONG.

    Just like with Enron, Long Term Capital, Bear Stearns, Lehman, Madoff, the SEC (government regulators) FAILED to “protect” the public. Why? Because the gov’t is inherently incapable of this task.

    The market provides the best medicine: the willingness to let firms go bankrupt.

    Companies make decisions. When they go bad, they suffer consequences. Shareholders invest, when those investments go bad, they suffer consequences. It’s simple, folks.

    Government intervention only kicks the can down the road, allowing further distortions and moral hazards.

  • Reading Comprehension

    You lack it.

    “FREED FROM THE CONTROL OF GOVERNMENT SURVEILLANCE, Enron illegal accounting practices defrauded investors…”

  • Yale 08


    The government empowered the Public Accounting Firms to be their eyes and ears. The accounting firm Arthur Andersen paid dearly for their incompetence.

    Ernst and Young is set to pay the same price for their failure during Lehman’s collapse.

    The government can cause damage in many ways, not just direct intervention. Moral hazards, asset bubbles, etc.

  • Word Perfect

    I agree absolutely with your criticism of Shaffer’s views. Of course, the government (as any organization) can be incompetent at times and corrupt (the corruption generally has to do with private companies paying off government officials to NOT do their jobs of regulationa and oversight) — but I’d rather risk government incompetence any day than an unregulated free market. And, as the author pointed out — time and time again free market excesses must be reined in by the government in order to prevent Enrons, savings and loan disasters, and possible international bank failures. Good job, free market!

  • Here, here!

    Mr. Otto I commend you for this piece and for capably poking holes in yet another one of Mr. Shaffer’s flimsy arguments. Maybe next time he’ll try facts.

  • There, there

    Mr. Otto’s blase attitude about the factually obvious superiority of Obamacare is unwarranted: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704100604575146002445136066.html

    Already, the unintended consequences are coming to light.

  • Yale 08

    The savings and loan crisis was caused by Paul Volcker’s interest rate policy and by Congress’ changes in accounting/tax law.

    And when was the last free market??? Even uber-enemy George W. Bush was not a free marketeer- he added thousands of pages of regulatory oversight.

    If you are criticizing our current market, you are critizing government intervention. We have more regulation than free exchange.

  • simple

    Nobody that says “people trust healthcare reform” has any grounding in reality.