Free markets make for a level playing field, ensuring the best products get to the consumers at the lowest price by rewarding hard working people who go the extra mile to bring the people what they want….except when someone other than the established upper class might take some of their wealth away. Then “free” markets make laws to ban that shit immediately.

The illusion that capitalism benefits anyone other than the haves over the have-nots is laid bare once again, this time in the automotive industry. Recently there have been two articles about Tesla Motors at wired.com that caught my interest.

tesla_roadsterFor those who haven’t heard of them, Tesla makes electric cars that actually look cool. That whole ‘you gotta be some kind of nerdy hipster to do away with gas guzzlers’ thing? Tesla says “Fuck that shit. Our cars will not only run on batteries, they will also look so awesome that autophiles will bust a nut at the sight of them.” Currently they cater a relatively wealthy demographic, but they are continually getting closer to producing an electric car that the masses could feasibly acquire.

The first article looks at how maintaining an electric vehicle requires so much less than a traditional gas car. No oil, pistons, air filters, pumps, belts, spark plugs, or any of that myriad of other bits and pieces that car garages charge you through the nose to  look after for you. All this makes other car dealers very unhappy. These problems that Tesla is trying to make better is how car shops make money. In their eyes, selling the public a sub-standard product is preferable as it will ensure years of expensive repairs. On top of that, Tesla is offering flat rate plans for what little maintenance one might need for their electric car, rather than charging for each and every little thing they do. If the public ever got used to ideas like that, it would be the end of both seedy garages that will screw you out of a couple hundred bucks as well as the posh dealership garages that will screw you out of thousands.

The second article looks at how Tesla sells its vehicles. Apparently Tesla is trying to make the process of buying a car not suck gangrenous donkey sack. By selling only direct over the internet, Tesla stores are located in malls, not lots; staffed with informative promoters, not pushy salesmen; providing a consistent experience across stores, not a terrifying crap shoot. Taking away the dealership middleman may make things fantastically better for the customer, but threatens another crux of the established car industry. Oh the horror! If this catches on, people would stop putting up with  manipulative pressuring assholes car salespeople, who would then, in turn, have to get some other job.

So this all sounds great. A new age of cleaner cars, better buying experiences, and a substantial drop in the sleaziness that the average person is exposed to. Except that the only losers in this scenario, the car dealers, have lots and lots of money. Enough money to buy big powerful lobbyists. But but we live in democracy with a free market, right? Whatever. People with money say no go. New Jersey has now banned Tesla stores, as car dealer lobbyists insist that Tesla’s better way of doing things gives them an unfair advantage. Legal battles like this are happening in many other places across the states.

A very grim and cynical part of me thinks it’s hilarious when capitalism advocates point at the corruptibility and horror of other economic systems. All the “free” market does is allow oppressors to pretend that they have earned the right to screw over the masses. Once stymying collective progress becomes easier and/or more profitable than short term individual gains, that invisible hand is much more likely to be used to beat down the public, rather than be any kind of positive force.