(Note: Ozy Is Not An Economist. Ozy’s entire knowledge of economics comes from blogs, books, and AP Macroeconomics. Please do not take this seriously.)
I think a truly free market requires a strong social safety net, for two reasons. (By “strong social safety net” I mean “giving poor people and unemployed people way more money than Americans currently do.”)
The assumption of a lot of people who talk about economics, I think, is that the employer and the employee are in a roughly similar position: that is, that it’s a free exchange of money for labor. The problem is that (except for a very few employees with specialized skills) there are way more employees than there are employers. I can fire you, take out a want ad, and find someone new relatively quickly; if you quit, you’re facing months or potentially years without a job that matches your skills. (This is basically the concept of the reserve army of labor. I’m a sociology major, I have to work Marx in somewhere.) Therefore, the employee needs the employer more than the employer needs the employee, which means the employer can treat the employee like shit.
On the other hand, the social safety net equalizes the employer and the employee’s position to a degree. If I’m not paying you enough or making you work crap hours or refusing to let you take breaks, you can think “this fucking sucks! I’d rather be unemployed!” and then you can quit. To keep their employees, the employer has to offer a better deal than unemployment and the social safety net. (This appeals politically much more to me than increased regulation, because it lets the individual decide what qualifies as “worse than unemployment”– although of course regulation is important for working conditions that employees probably wouldn’t know about, and “appeals politically to Ozy” is not the same thing as “works better.”)
At the same time, the free market relies on a lot of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship increases competition, which means that companies have to offer customers a better deal, so prices go down and quality goes up and there’s innovation and everything is sparkle rainbow ponies. On the other hand, about half of new businesses go bankrupt. How many more people would be willing to start businesses if they knew that even in the worst-case scenario they wouldn’t go completely broke and have to live on ramen? I’m going to guess the answer is “quite a few.”
In short: support the free market, give money to poor people.