Taxi Wars

A mother throws her young son from the window of a taxi, just in time to save him from being incinerated by a rampaging mob. But the mother is trapped inside the taxi. . . and the little boy watches her burn to death. This horrifying story comes to us from South Africa. Yet the violence has nothing to do with the racial tension plaguing that country. It's a case of economic competition run wild. The violence centers on the taxi business. Buying a taxi has been one of the easiest ways for an impoverished South African to become an entrepreneur. But trade sanctions have driven costs up, fanning fierce competition among taxi-owners. Turf battles have broken out-real battles with ambushes, shootings, and firebombs. Interestingly, the New York Times recently reported on the violence under the title "Deadly Free Market." It described victims as casualties of "market forces"-as though the problem were a free market economy. This is a typical misconception today. What's happening in South Africa is not an example of the free market. It's crime, pure and simple; and the government ought to put a stop to it. A free market doesn't mean citizens are free to live by the law of the jungle. It simply means economic decisions are in the hands of ordinary citizens, not government officials. The government still needs to fulfill its normal functions of enforcing the law and keeping order. Classic free-market theory is built on the premise that every sphere of society has its own unique role and function. Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch statesman and Christian leader at the turn of the century, argued that societies enjoy the most freedom when each sphere fulfills its own function, without trying to take over the functions of others. When economy and state, church and family, each pursues the role assigned it by God. The economy is the arena where people exchange goods and services to their mutual benefit. The government, on the other hand, bears the power of the sword. Its role is to protect citizens from crime and lawlessness. And that includes crime in the marketplace, says Cal Beisner in his book Prosperity and Poverty. For example, in the economic realm government ought to enforce laws against fraud and theft, laws regarding contracts, laws against false advertising and false labeling. Government should also protect society from harmful economic activities: It should prohibit prostitution, pornography, and the recreational use of drugs. And it goes without saying that government should protect people from being attacked and killed by economic competitors-the kind of outrages happening in South Africa's bloody taxi wars. All around the globe, people are turning away from government-controlled economies and seeking to emulate the free market economies of the West. But we'd better make sure we're giving them a true picture of what a free market is: It's where the government leaves economic matters to private citizens but vigorously enforces the law. Markets are not free when rivals shoot each other and people are afraid for their lives. Freedom thrives only where it is protected by law.


Chuck Colson


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