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Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets by Lila Rajiva, Will Bonner

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The Highwaymen

“A fool and his money are soon parted,” goes the old saying. What has always puzzled us is how the two of them got together in the first place. Markets are supposed to sort such things out. In their free give‐and‐take, human strengths and weaknesses are rewarded or punished, as the case may be. And if the results seem unfair, who are we to argue with them? Do unto others—and they will do unto you. And the more you do for others, the more you can expect them to do for you. People bake bread not to put bread on others’ tables, but to put it on their own. Thank God. Otherwise, we'd all go hungry. Nor does the busboy bus for the benefit of mankind. Instead, everyone schleps, humps, sweats, and toils for reasons of his own.

This insight is the central insight of all modern economists who aren't idiots. The symmetry is of it is elegant. The morality of it is appealing.

That is why a properly functioning economy does seem to deliver something close to rough justice. Henry Ford brought the benefits of automobile transportation to the masses. He deserved to make a lot of money. Andrew Carnegie provided the nation with steel. John D. Rockefeller rolled up and rationalized an early market in oil. Who can say these tycoons of yesteryear did not deserve what they got?

But, today, give‐and‐take is replaced by assault and battery. The market is a public spectacle, where nothing quite works as promised and almost no one gets what he deserves. Mountebanks are adulated, while honest ...

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