Public opinion research indicates that most people espouse egalitarian ideals and acknowledge substantial income inequality in society, but they consistently perceive the economic system to be highly fair and legitimate. In an attempt to better understand this paradox by considering the cognitive and motivational bases of ideological support for the free market system, we draw on and integrate a number of social psychological theories suggesting that people want to believe that the systems and institutions that affect them are fair, legitimate, and justified. We have developed an instrument for measuring fair market ideology, and we have found in several samples that its endorsement is associated with self-deception, economic system justification, opposition to equality, power distance orientation, belief in a just world, political conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism, and scandal minimization. We also present evidence that people evince a system-justifying tendency to judge profitable companies to be more ethical than unprofitable companies. In addition, results from an experimental study we conducted in Hungary indicate that support for the free market system is strongest among people who score high in self-deception under conditions of system threat, suggesting the presence of a (non-rational) defensive motivation. Finally, we discuss several organizational and societal implications of the tendency to idealize market mechanisms and to view market-generated outcomes as inherently fair.