Jailhouse Economics 101: Why Free Markets work
For anyone confused about how a market economy works, there is an ongoing educational opportunity, every hour of every day, taking place at your local county Jail. Spend a ten days in Jail and take the crash course on a market economy. I did, upon my own request. Until you do the same, experience it for yourself as a true participant observer, your opinions against a market economy have no validity.
When I was incarcerated I had to forfeit all of my belongings. The Jail (Leon County Jail) issued me; pants, a top, 2 pairs of underwear, a toothbrush, a thick burlap blanket, a pillow case (oddly with no pillow), a washcloth, a comb, a pair of sandals, a 3 ounce cup and a spork. There I was. As I entered my cell those were all of the belongings I had to my name. Breakfast was served around 4:30am. Those who didn’t exit their cell after the second time they were “buzzed” out, forfeited their breakfast and remained locked in their cell. We had a very short time to eat. If we spoke to others while we ate we were sent back to our cell without our tray of chemical nutrition, and if someone threw away their spork accidentally, they were not given another one. Lunch came around 11:30am and dinner around 5:30pm and the same rules applied.
It only took two days of observation to realize the way it all worked. This benefited me because I was actively trying to figure out how it worked rather than sitting scared, alone hoping each time the phone rang, it was to inform the guard that my bail was posted.
Everyone in jail wants something that you have and vice versa. For example, I was a fan of the good ole Florida orange. No doubt, the orange was a staple of our meals, and no doubt, it was chosen because of affordability and picked by prisoners from the orange groves, which conveniently surround many of Florida’s prisons.
Lucky for me, I was one of the few who wanted the oranges that were served at every meal. The supply of oranges was quite abundant in this incarcerated community. If we were lucky, every other day, for one of our meals, we were served some kind of sweet cake bread that I found disgusting. The supply of cake bread was low and the demand was quite high.
We were not supposed to speak or make gestures at each other while eating, yet somehow, by day three. It was known in the community that I did not like my cake bread. One day while we were out of our cells for “free” time in the yard, I was approached regarding my disdain for cake bread. I agreed to smuggle my bread back to my cell for another’s orange. Word spread. Within hours I had many people asking for my cake bread and I realized I indeed was in the middle of a market economy based on supply and demand. Never again would I trade my cake bread for just a single orange.
Everyone in Jail has a Canteen. This has money placed in to it, by someone on the “outside”, so you could purchase items such as snacks and toiletries. You can only order from the Canteen on Tuesday and Saturday and you received what you bought on Thursday and Monday. Here is the kicker, if you have money in your canteen, the jail will take $10 a day out for “room and board”. Yet, if you had no money in your canteen, you paid the jail nothing.
When I realized the value my cake bread had inside the walls of the Leon County Jail, I began trading for more valuable items (and the orange). Before long, I had acquired lotion, shampoo, a bag of chips, candy, and the jailhouse staple, a bagged pickle.
The incarcerated are often quite favorable of a free market. Most of the imprisoned –while not violent – are no strangers to the black market. The black market is very similar to the free market with the exception of one thing, transparency. In a free market, if one party wishes to trade with another and there is a breech of agreement, we would turn to the judicial branch for justice.
Within the walls of the Leon County Jail we were consumers of the black market. We were clearly not allowed to trade as we did, yet usually the authorities that monitored us usually turned a blind eye, unless they needed to use our rule breaking against us. On the “inside” there is no third-party mediator to declare justice. We knew this, and as stated, traded regardless. After all, we were in jail. If there ever happened to be a discrepancy in a jailhouse trade (which I never saw happen) it would be hashed out under the rules of the black market.
Ten days and a bushel of oranges later, I was released. I was scolded multiple times for my possession of oranges, which were considered “contraband” if found in your cell. I was reprimanded countless times for limitless reasons, yet none were to preserve the safety of other inmates. Regardless, the market thrived.
Now that I am outside of those gates and walls of the Leon County Jail, I am disgusted at how un-free our current economic system is. While I believe a total “Free Market” may not be attainable due to the need for regulation by our judicial branch of government, it is overwhelmingly clear; that an economy based on supply and demand is the only way to achieve long-term economic freedom. Dismantling the size of the black market by doing away with unconstitutional laws, and needless regulation, would unclog our court systems to handle those few who act criminally in a free market economy.
Free trade with others, may it be those across the street or across the ocean, causes no harm. In a time where the U.S. economy is spiraling downward much like a heroin addict about to hit rock bottom, I think its time to stop enabling our government and their addiction to power. We, as a community need to support trade by growing your own food, practicing your own skills, or producing our own goods, and trading them with our neighbors. There comes a time when we need to step back, take in the demands our governments place on us, and question if they are in our best interest. Personally, I refuse to work against my best interest. The choice is yours, but the punishment is all of ours. Question everything, and choose wisely.
Free markets would allow you to bring “clear” justice to those who have encroached on another’s rights without hurting the true idea of freedom. I use the term “clear” because in a free market you will have responsibility with overseeing the trade itself; as opposed to leaving the market closed from transparency in a black market. If left closed than you are incriminating individuals who participate in the market but do not encroach on other’s rights. It is an individual’s personal choice what they want to participate in, as long as you don’t trample on another’s rights. And, if we eliminated laws that have no victim, law enforcement could spend a lot more time focusing on those who were encroaching on the rights of others.