Price-fixing violates free marketplace

By Tibor Machan

Imagine you are a plumber or a teacher or a guitar player, working in Maine. Imagine that some people who want your services just don’t want to pay your wages. They think you cost too much.
So, they go to the government and get it to order you to work at the price they like. When this is resisted, they turn to a bunch of appointed officials in your community — let’s call them Justices of the Maine Supreme Court — and plead their case: “Let the government make those plumbers, teachers or guitar players do their thing for us not at the price they want to charge but at the price we want to pay them.”
Lo and behold, the Justices feel sorry for the folks making this plea and, pronto, tell the government of the state that it may make you work for the money these folks want to pay.
I’d call this a case of forced labor.
When the Supreme Court of a state can simply sic the state gendarmes on people if they do not work for what some want to pay them, then we aren’t talking about a free society any longer. There is no serious, basic distinction between such a state and a country in which people are actually rounded up and forced to work whether they want to or not. It’s just a matter of the details, that’s all.
OK, so you say, but aren’t we already doing this when companies are forced to pay workers a “minimum” wage? How free are those employers who are legally forbidden to hire people at a wage they and the employers agree on and, instead, impose a wage from above?
Sure, you are right. That, too, is totally anathema in a free society, so way before the Supreme Court of Maine got into the game — by declaring it perfectly fine for the government to tell manufacturers of pharmaceuticals to sell at prices at which they do not want to sell — the entire country (this supposedly free country of ours that so proudly goes after dictators because they, well, force their people to do what they do not want to do) had already turned away from the ideal of individual liberty, the right of everyone to call his or her own price in a free marketplace.
So why fuss now? This free society idea has been sold down the river a long time ago, so why the fuss?
Yes, bit by bit, the country has been turning positively unfree. It has had elements of such lack of freedom from its inception — just remember slavery, the draft, prohibition, barring women from political participation and proper legal standing.
What’s different now, it seems to me, is that there is hardly any concern about what the Maine Supreme Court did. None of the major newspapers have made any kind of serious fuss about it. Talk shows aren’t flooded with protesters who want to resist yet another step toward fascism, the arbitrary regimentation of people by government.
Indeed, if anything, the bulk of American citizens would probably applaud the decision if they knew of it — after all, it was made against greedy corporations whose owners and managers aren’t real persons who develop ideas and products.
No, these are not companies of human beings trying to make a living, by selling their work and their ideas to willing buyers. Instead the court and the state government dealt a blow to, well, worthless, greedy business people, so why be concerned with freedom? They do not count.
But, of course, if they do not count, soon some other people will not count, other people whose work may be wanted by enough citizens with political clout and clever lawyers pleading their corrupt case before a sadly unprincipled Supreme Court of one of this far from free country’s sterling states. These others may indeed be plumbers, teachers or guitar players.
I, for one, consider this a travesty and simply find the deafening silence about it all a devastating blow to liberty.

Tibor Machan advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at