What are the basic principles of a free market?
The Free Market Monument Foundation has done extensive research on what principles are most commonly associated with free market economics.
Individual Rights. The most basic and widely understood principle of the free market is that of individual rights to life, liberty, property and voluntary contractual exchange. Individual rights encompass not only the right to control ones own life, liberty and property, but also to defend those rights.
Limited Government. The limited role of government solely to the defense of the rights of individuals is also an important and almost universally understood principle of the free market.
Equal Justice Under Law. The principle of equal justice is critically important to the function of the free market. Government must treat all individuals and organizations equally, refraining from giving any legal support to popular discriminatory practices. Government must also never succumb to the temptation to reward unsuccessful businesses and individuals with special benefits or heap additional burdens on successful business.
Spontaneous Order. The tendency for markets to order themselves naturally through the laws of supply and demand is one of the most familiar principles of the free market. When individual rights are respected, unregulated competition will naturally tend to reduce costs and increase the abundance of products that are in demand. This principle is also referred to as the invisible hand of the marketplace.
Private Ownership. The principle of private ownership is the free market belief that property that is owned by the state, or is communally owned, is not respected or preserved as effectively as that property which is owned by private individuals or corporations. This principle is also commonly referred to as the tragedy of the commons.
Subsidiarity. Many free market organizations, such as the Acton Institute, believe the principle of subsidiarity is essential to keeping free markets competitive and dynamic. Subsidiarity is the principle that authority should always be vested at the lowest, most local possible level, where local knowledge and concerns can best guide decisions. The natural tendency is often to pass the buck, expecting higher authority to take responsibility for too much.
The Golden Rule. The principle of fair treatment of others is considered a core principle of the free market by organizations such as the Heritage Foundation. Free markets require some level of mutual honesty to function best. We achieve this not only by dealing honestly with others, but by requiring honesty in return and holding those accountable who use misrepresentation or negotiate in bad faith.