Free Market advocates often make arguments for the strength of their system based on the strength of the market, or the effects that may be produced by the market for the economy, society, technology, etc.
When however, we come to the subject of morality, there is very little cause effect argumentation which is demonstrated for the market and morals. This is because it is painfully obvious that the market does not of its own workings produce moral men. This does not mean by contrast, that there are no moral men in business today, though in places like Goldman and Sachs they are no doubt difficult to find. Rather, I mean to say that when we look at the effects of the market on man, we must say that it creates primarily greed, and spirals to many other vices.
Moreover, the market does not of its own accord make the populace moral. If by no other method, we could show this by tracing the decline in religion and morals since the advent of English Capitalism in the 18th century. The most preeminent case to be made against the market in the area of morals, is pornography.
In the year 2000, Hollywood put out just over 400 feature films. The "adult entertainment" industry, so-called, produced 11,000. This is not some communist scheme to undermine American morals. Crypto-commies are not funneling millions into production and spiriting away billions to fund revolution for the proletariat. Quite the contrary, the rise of the "adult" industry, which was estimated at $5 million in 1970 is estimated around $10 billion today (Reefer Madness, Sex drugs and cheap labor in the American black market, by Eric Schlosser, pg. 115) is due precisely to the demands of the market. This is not merely a modern phenomenon, it started in the 1920s where peep shows, seedy stores and back alley theaters began making profits from men who would slip away. I mention by the way communists because in arguing this point previously with a colleague, he argued pornography's presence was due to the ACLU, which is sadly naive at best.
Two main revolutions happened to increase both the demand and the distribution of pornography by moving it out of the seedy back alley into the home or an accepted mainstream. The first was Hugh Heffener, who took sex to the next level and moved his cut and paste operation on his kitchen table to his first issue with a Marylin Monroe centerfold which printed 70,000 copies in its first run. Within three years he had a millions subscribers.
The second, and far less known, is a hard working entrepreneur by the name of Reuben Sturman. Sturman worked hard selling comic books he had obtained which were sent back to the publisher or to be destroyed, and moved into several other fields. The success of Playboy had brought about numerous imitations, and the high demand for magazines and books caught his eye. Seeing the chance to make money Sturman embarked on distribution of as much as he could get his hand on. This is important, whether Sturman viewed the stuff he distributed is largely immaterial, he was a hardworking businessman who saw a chance to make millions, like any good entrepreneur, and he went for it. He was not a communist or an ACLU guru, he was a hard working capitalist responding to the demand of the market, and even increasing the demand. When he came hard up against obscenity laws, he laid out a clever procedure, sue the government and drag cases out. To avoid the government, he began setting up shell companies for distribution and paying men money just to have a name on paper who didn't even have to do anything. At one point, according to Schlosser, Sturman actually picked names out of phone books to make as CEOs of distribution companies.
A clever businessman, Sturman realized that his business could be taken to the next level, and in 1976 prepared for the audio visual tape, we know today as VCR. Hollywood studies resisted the medium, but adult video was ready for it and in 1979 75% of all video cassettes were pornography. (Schlosser pg. 148) This means functionally that the porn industry was responsible for the launch of the VCR. He would not have entered into a medium that was at first cost prohibitive unless the demand was there. Sturman's logic is impeccable, most of his clients don't want to handle the stuff, and most men who deal in porn or would otherwise venture to a seedy theater are afraid of the social stigmas attached to it, or if the wives find out (since most women, retaining their common sense, have righteous indignation over the sacrilege against their wedding vows. People commonly site playgirl as evidence of womens' interest in porn, but the majority of the subscribers are gay men); thus Sturman took the business to them.
In 1992, after failing for 20 years to prosecute Sturman for obscenity, the he was prosecuted for tax evasion once one of his Swiss bank accounts were discovered. This ended his control over distribution and control of adult entertainment. He had established numerous front companies, which with him out of the picture took control themselves. As I mentioned, in the year 2000, Hollywood produced over 400 feature films. The porn industry produced 11,000. This is due to the market. People want these products. It is the largest export in America and perhaps the most shameful tribute to our decadence.
All of this should serve as a reminder that the "market" is a-moral, it is not moral in itself or immoral. It is a tool, and it must be controlled by a user as all tools. Irrespective of who controls it, it will be controlled because there is in truth no such thing as a "free" market. It is simply the market, and it will be controlled by those with the most wealth in influence if there is a vacuum, and if the government exerts too much control such as in a command economy or a communist country, there will be little activity in the market to sustain healthy economic activity. Yet the market is not capable of producing moral men, it is only capable of producing goods to be bought and sold. Sturman is an example of a product of the market, and if anything a champion of it. He responded to demand by increasing and distributing the supply, including financing new mediums that would take years to hit critical mass such as VCR. He did it by contributing to America's moral decline and descent into anarchy.
The fact is, and this can be observed in all societies and follows from natural law, vicious men must be controlled either from the inside (by changing their will, doing penance and converting to good) or from the outside (prison). A society that becomes dominated by vicious men is doomed. This is due to the fact that it can not operate for the common good. Those in charge look to what pleases them, and we see this today with our representatives in government. They don't care about the common good of this country. Men do not care what is good for their families. As Pope Leo XIII observed in Rerum Novarum, the family is the basic building block of society. As the family goes, so does society. Plain and simple.
Thus the market needs to be regulated by some force, not necessarily by a central government, it can also be by a local government accountable to its local citizens. Yet if a government does not rule justly, then men will rule for themselves and when that happens the most puerile and wealthy rule for their own interest. As the old rule goes, might makes right, and when man is left to his own devices, without grace, he will incline toward evil, not good, because the will is fixed on imperfect goods after the fall.
Michael Novak observed, in response to Sohltshenitsyn's Harvard address, that he would rather see a government that allowed pornography because that meant we are free. This is the same bedrock principle of men such as Sturman, Heffner and Flynt, they should be absolutely free to market filth, and to profit from it. The problem is it is not true freedom. Even if all of religion were wrong and porn were okay rather than a complete degradation of the human person to an animal and sense experience without dignity, the concept itself does not represent freedom, but anarchy. If everyone is free to do what he wills he is not capable of choosing the good, or at least, something outside himself. He is only free to choose what is on the inside, what he immediately desires. This principle is the complete corruption of the common good. There are some things which are more important than market forces, and which need to be suppressed. Now could the government stop all pornography if it criminalized it? Probably not. This is a long standing problem stretching back to the 19th century when the work of some entrepreneurial French photographers had produced a flood of nude photos circulating around the US and especially in the Union Army. Yet a culture which vilifies and prosecutes porn, keeping it out of the public as best it can, will find that vicious men are kept in control, and is a fundamentally healthier society than where men are free to do whatever the market leads them. Just ask your wife.