Back in the day there were very few restrictions on business. As a result, businesses generally did what businesses do, which is make as much of a profit as they can. As much as a free market cheerleader as I am, in the back of my mind lurks Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" and the consequences of an industry, even a society, of unrestrained capitalists perpetuating economic exploitation of workers and consumers.
This led to Big Unions, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Had the free market been able to behave in a moral manner, with responsible use of resources and labor, then perhaps we wouldn't have needed more big government and socialism to reform the system.
Here I sit with the modern convenience of the internet, with full confidence that the food I purchase has met with certain standards in production (a necessary government function based on the deplorable state of some slaughterhouses "back in the day") and enjoy electricity produced by coal fired power plants that put out chemically inert reaction products (H20, and CO2) instead of a yellow plume of sulfuric acid. I enjoy a river that doesn't catch fire.
Hippies in America talk about how abusive we are to the land, without acknowledging that Conservation goes back a very long time. Between 1900 and 2000 in our fair country we saw a massive stabilization of forest land, even as timber products continue to rise (largely through more efficient use of stock).
The free man's choice, "if you don't like it, leave" is great in theory. However in practice, the ability to leave requires a level of resources that many just don't have, whether through legitimate poverty or poor resource management.
The Constitution of the United States was never set up to deal with immoral businessmen, so Congress, operating under the "General Welfare" and "Interstate Commerce" clauses set about to remedy the situation (and therefor ensure their re-election).
We know through the social experiments in Germany and Korea that the free market system produces the most wealth for the most people, and that the fairest system of Socialism produces the most misery for the most people. But we have never had a society where businessmen didn't go straight to a "rush to the bottom" when it comes to ethical practices, either through government standards or other. Minimum standards become maximum standards quite quickly in most cases.
History is paved with very good reasons why we got to where we are, with a massive bureaucracy and intrusive nanny state government. And I like living in a nation where I don't get all my minerals in one breath. So the question becomes, how do we ensure wise stewardship of shared resources (land, water, air) without resorting to a massive Federal bureaucracy? How do we provide legal protections for citizens from exploiting employers (no one should owe their soul to the company store)?
Can we accomplish all of that through a robust legal system with guidance to jurors? Can we even trust jurors to act as citizens instead of socialist activists? Things I have been pondering.