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It Takes a Market

In her now-famous book, Hillary Clinton popularized the old African proverb stating that “it takes a village to raise a child” — a refrain humorist P.J. O’Rourke suspects to have originated in the “ancient African kingdom of Hallmarkcardia.”

Clinton’s main argument is that we need a society which meets all the needs of all its children (“Just imagine, bro!”). For Clinton, however, such ends are not to be reached by encouraging freedom, instilling dignity, or teaching the importance of self-government and charity. Instead, children are only to reach their ultimate state of nirvana if the State becomes the family itself. After all, much like those other pesky private institutions — churches, schools, businesses…that kind of thing — the private family simply cannot be trusted (fascism alert).

There are plenty of serious issues with this approach, but putting aside each child’s basic spiritual, psychological, and familial needs (at least, for the moment), there is something to be said about the market’s ability to provide thematerial stuff that children need.

Economist Milton Friedman points out this feature in a widely circulated exchange with a young, dare I say typical, college student:

The discussion begins by centering on the differences between income distribution and wealth distribution (snore!), but it eventually moves toward the inheritance tax (double snore!), which Freidman uses as an occasion to illustrate (1) the ways through which government can pervert a family’s trajectory by imposing something as subtle as a discriminatory tax, and (2) the ways that families, by their original, organic nature, are fully capable of fending for themselves in a market system. By “fend” I mean “fight,” and it’s a difficult, healthy, enriching, love-filled fight to be sure.

As Friedman emphasizes: “This is a family society, not an individualist society.”


Although the market gets a bad rap for promoting selfishness and greed (as if the Soviet Union didn’t), the extent to which voluntary charity occurs — particularly in relation to the family — goes well beyond what might be considered necessary, or in Friedman’s words, “rational”:

“The thing that is amazing that people don’t really recognize is the extent to which the market system has in fact encouraged people and enabled people to work hard and sacrifice — in what I must confess I often regard as an irrational way — for the benefit of their children. One of the most curious things to me in observation is that almost all people value the utility their children will get from consumption higher than their own.

If family members tend to sacrifice for each other without the use of force, then doesn’t this imply that the student is wrong to assume that capitalists are also not prone to give away their wealth voluntarily? (Learn some history. And some economics.)

To go further, as I did in my most recent post on the Jetsons, when the material needs are met by utilizing the proper socio-political framework, we can then more easily progress as a society toward a proper spiritual orientation. If we take a different path, and attempt to centralize each family’s plans, dreams, and aspirations, we are sure to end up in a materialistic wasteland, no matter how wealthy and comfortable a socialistic democracy can get.

As for what this means for the children, you can probably expect lots of video gamesobesity, and insecurity. (Sound familiar?)

It is by something deep within ourselves — not the government — that we are inspired toward such pursuits, and it is through the market — again, not the government — that we are empowered and enabled to execute good on behalf of others, including our children and everyone else.

If this is what Clinton means by the “village” – a free, voluntary society, functioning through cooperation and exchange and resulting in real, authentic, and unadulterated sacrifice – then sign me up.

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This is a family society, not an individualist society.