Normally when we think of “free trade,” us lay people, we think of removing barriers to the exchange of goods and services. Removing barriers is the “free” part of “free trade.” Of course, there really is no such thing as a “no barriers” market, since even the simplest of markets always has rules, and those who write the rules are “picking winners and losers” by definition.
Consider, for example, a flea market held in the parking lot of a local fairground on a Saturday. To participate, you have to register for a space with the organizers (the parking lot isn’t infinitely long or wide), set up an approved tent or table, and usually, if your goods are sold by weight or volume, have your weights and measuring devices certified by the organizers as honest.
All of the restrictions above place limits on the “market” — put it under control of the organizers — but consider for a minute just the last one, certified weights and measures. How is that not “picking winners and losers”? Winners — Vendors with honest scales. Losers — Vendors who cheat their customers.
Or consider a flea market without that requirement. Winners — Vendors who cheat their customers. Losers — Vendors with honest scales.
A lot has been written, in fact, about the non-existence, by definition, of anything resembling a “free market,” including much by the writer Masaccio (main site here).
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