Governments intervene in markets to address inefficiency. In an optimally efficient market, resources are perfectly allocated to those that need them in the amounts they need. In inefficient markets that is not the case; some may have too much of a resource while others do not have enough. Inefficiency can take many different forms. The government tries to combat these inequities through regulation, taxation, and subsidies. Most governments have any combination of four different objectives when they intervene in the market.
Maximizing Social Welfare
In an unregulated inefficient market, cartels and other types of organizations can wield monopolistic power, raising entry costs and limiting the development of infrastructure. Without regulation, businesses can produce negative externalities without consequence. This all leads to diminished resources, stifled innovation, and minimized trade and its corresponding benefits. Government intervention through regulation can directly address these issues.
Another example of intervention to promote social welfare involves public goods. Certain depletable goods, like public parks, aren’t owned by an individual. This means that no price is assigned to the use of that good and everyone can use it. As a result, it is very easy for these assets to be depleted. Governments intervene to ensure those resources are not depleted.
Governments also intervene to minimize the damage caused by naturally occurring economic events. Recessions and inflation are part of the natural business cycle but can have a devastating effect on citizens. In these cases, governments intervene through subsidies and manipulation of the money supply to minimize the harsh impact of economic forces on its constituents.
Governments may also intervene in markets to promote general economic fairness. Government often tries, through taxation and welfare programs, to reallocate financial resources from the wealthy to those that are most in need. Other examples of market intervention for socio-economic reasons include employment laws to protect certain segments of the population and the regulation of the manufacture of certain products to ensure the health and well-being of consumers.
Governments can sometimes intervene in markets to promote other goals, such as national unity and advancement. Most people agree that governments should provide a military for the protection of its citizens, and this can be seen as a type of intervention. Growing a large and impressive military not only increases a country’s security, but may also be a source of pride. Intervening in a way that promotes national unity and pride can be an extremely valuable goal for government officials.
Should Government intervene in the economy?
One of the main issues in economics is the extent to which the government should intervene in the economy. Free market economists argue that government intervention should be strictly limited as government intervention tends to cause an inefficient allocation of resources. However, others argue there is a strong case for government intervention in different fields.
Arguments for Government Intervention
1. Greater Equality – redistribute income and wealth to improve equality of opportunity and equality of outcome
2.Market Failure – Markets fail to take into account externalities and are likely to under-produce public / merit goods. For example, governments can subsidize or provide goods with positive externalities.
3. Macroeconomic intervention. – Intervention to overcome prolonged recessions and reduce unemployment.
Arguments against Government Intervention:
1. Governments liable to make the wrong decisions – influence by political pressure groups, they spend on inefficient projects which lead to inefficient outcome.
2. Personal Freedom. Government intervention is taking away individuals decision on how to spend and act. Economic intervention, takes some personal freedom away.
Market is best at deciding how and when to produce.