Robert B. Reich in Literary Hub:
In order to have a “free market,” decisions must be made about:
• PROPERTY: what can be owned
• MONOPOLY: what degree of market power is permissible
• CONTRACT: what can be bought and sold, and on what terms
• BANKRUPTCY: what happens when purchasers can’t pay up
• ENFORCEMENT: how to make sure no one cheats on any of these rules
You might think such decisions obvious. Ownership, for example, is simply a matter of what you’ve created or bought or invented, what’s yours.
Think again. What about slaves? The human genome? A nuclear bomb? A recipe? Most contemporary societies have decided you can’t own these things. You can own land, a car, mobile devices, a home, and all the things that go into a home. But the most important form of property is now intellectual property—new designs, ideas, and inventions. What exactly counts as intellectual property, and how long can you own it?
Decisions also underlie what degree of market power is permissible—how large and economically potent a company or small group of firms can become, or to what extent dominance over a standard platform or search engine unduly constrains competition.
Similarly, you may think buying and selling is simply a matter of agreeing on a price—just supply and demand. But most societies have decided against buying and selling sex, babies, and votes. Most don’t allow the sale of dangerous drugs, unsafe foods, or deceptive Ponzi schemes. Similarly, most civilized societies do not allow or enforce contracts that are coerced or that are based on fraud. But what exactly does “coercion” mean? Or even “fraud”?