The Flagellation of the Pursuit of Happiness

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Krugman is at it again. In Monday’s New
York Times
, in his official capacity as a professional bleeding
heart “liberal,” he once again revels in his role of flagellating
the pursuit of happiness with the whip of human misery. Specifically,
he denounces the prospect of the impending Senate vote to abolish
the estate tax, on the grounds that the government’s loss of
revenue “will cause 65,000 people, mainly children, to lose
health insurance, and lead many people who retain insurance to skip
needed medical care because they can’t afford increased co-payments.”

True to form,
Krugman makes no mention of the fact that in each case the money
paid as estate taxes was rightfully the property of the bequestor,
who earned it and who had a right to determine to whom his property
would go: namely, to his chosen heirs and not to anyone selected
by Krugman or government officials, in defiance of his wishes. With
Krugman and his ilk, the rights of bequestors and of taxpayers in
general count for nothing. They are overridden by the needs of others.

His message
is the endlessly repeated one of “stop, don’t use your
wealth for your own enjoyment (present or future), because others
are suffering and need it more than you do.” His message is
that everyone’s life is mortgaged to the needs of others and
that no one can breathe free and live for his own happiness and
pleasure so long as anyone else, anywhere on earth is suffering
and in misery.

Here is a news
flash for Mr. Krugman and all others who share his beliefs: The
individual owns his life free and clear. His own happiness is full
and sufficient justification for his actions, irrespective of the
needs, misery, and suffering of others. He did not cause their suffering
and his self-sacrifice would not cure it.

An individual
may be a multimillionaire (nowadays, he probably needs to be a billionaire)
and desire a yacht or personal jet. He values his yacht and/or jet
more than feeding the possibly thousands or tens of thousands of
starving people around the world for whom the price of his luxuries
might buy food. His valuation is not arbitrary or capricious. It
is based on the fact that his yacht or plane will make a greater
actual contribution to his life and the lives of his loved ones
than will the feeding of a mass of people with whom he has no personal
connection and who make no actual contribution to his life or well

Krugman and virtually all the other bleeding heart “liberals”
behave in essentially the same way in their own lives as does the
billionaire. They too value their luxuries above the necessities
of strangers. If they did not, they would live as monks under vows
of poverty, in small cells, sleeping on a straw mat, and subsisting
on bread and water, so that they could provide for those needier
than themselves to the greatest possible extent.

Krugman closes
his column with the remark, “Congress has already declared
that the budget deficit is serious enough to warrant depriving children
of health care; how can it now say that it’s worth enlarging the
deficit to give Paris Hilton a tax break?” The answer is that
while Paris Hilton may not be one of the most inspiring representatives
of humankind, the fact remains that like everyone else she too has
the right to the pursuit of her own happiness. And neither Krugman
nor anyone else is entitled to deprive her of anything that is rightfully
hers because they believe that her wealth should be used differently
than she would wish to use it. Paris Hilton deserves the tax break
because the money is hers in the first place. Krugman’s Medicaid
children do not deserve that money because it is not theirs and
has been given them only by means of stealing it – i.e., taking
it against the will of its owners at the point of a gun wielded
by tax collectors.

Cutting Medicaid
and all other government programs while reducing and eliminating
taxes is precisely the policy that is needed to restore the founding
principle of the United States, which is the individual’s
right to the pursuit of his own happiness. This principle, not
cutting the government’s budget deficit, is the primary. Implementing
it means cutting government spending precisely for the purpose of
cutting taxes. If there is a deficit, it means cutting government
spending still more. It means cutting government spending for the
very neediest to make possible the pursuit of happiness by the very
wealthiest. If the pursuit of happiness is the principle, it means
this above all, because only this will secure the principle.

The philosophy
I have expressed above is most closely identified with Ayn Rand
and her philosophy of Objectivism. And in truth, she is its most
consistent advocate. Nevertheless, I would like to quote a passage
from another advocate of the same philosophy, namely, Ludwig von
Mises, which has the special virtue of pointing out the close connection
between the ethics of egoism and the teachings of economics on the
subject of the harmony of self-interests. It is the single passage
in all of Mises’s writings that I value most highly and which
served to make me a “Misesian” for life, when I first
read it over fifty years ago. It summarizes the essence of Mises’s
economic theories.

is gained when the teacher of morals constructs an absolute ethic
without reference to the nature of man and his life. The declamations
of philosophers cannot alter the fact that life strives to live
itself out, that the living being seeks pleasure and avoids pain.
All one’s scruples against acknowledging this as the basic
law of human actions fall away as soon as the fundamental principle
of social co-operation is recognized. That everyone lives and
wishes to live primarily for himself does not disturb social life
but promotes it, for the higher fulfillment of the individual’s
life is possible only in and through society. This is the true
meaning of the doctrine that egoism is the basic law of society.
– Ludwig von Mises,
Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
. New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1951, p. 402.

Among the most
important things that Mises showed is that the pursuit of self-interest
is the foundation of the saving and investment and continuous innovation
and improvement of products and methods of production that serves
to raise the standard of living of all. In a country governed by
the principle of the individual’s pursuit of his own happiness,
the standard of living of the very poorest comes to surpass the
standard of living of the very richest of a few generations back.

In such a country,
great business fortunes are accumulated on the basis of the earning
of a high rate of profit over a long period of time and the continuous
saving and reinvestment of most of that profit. To earn the high
rate of profit, repeated innovations are required, as competition
serves to eliminate the premium profits on earlier innovations.
In their origin and disposition, the great fortunes serve to increase
the supply of products and reduce their prices, while raising the
demand for labor and its wages, this last being one of the effects
of the greater accumulation of capital.

In his ignorance,
it is precisely such fortunes that Krugman is out to undermine through
his advocacy of the continuation of the estate tax. He thinks the
estate tax has no negative consequences for the average person because
it “is overwhelmingly a tax on the very, very wealthy; only
about one estate in 200,” he says, “pays any tax at all.”

If the estates
consisted of mere heaps of personal consumers’ goods, in the
manner, say, of the jewels of an Indian maharajah, Krugman might
have a point. He has no point when the estates consist of the means
of production that serve the general buying public in providing
it with goods and services and that underlie most of the demand
for labor in the economic system. Estate taxes are at the expense
of the supply of consumers’ goods for all and at the expense
of the demand for the labor of all. They are urged in opposition
to the general standard of living and the well being of all.

and the other advocates of looting and plundering the wealth of
the rich for the alleged sake of the poor contemptuously dismiss
these absolutely correct economic doctrines pertaining to the role
of innovation and saving as “the trickle-down theory.”
In doing so, they serve only to perpetuate the poverty of which
they pretend to complain.

Krugman and
his ilk actually care nothing whatever for the welfare of the poor.
For them the suffering of the poor is merely a weapon with which
to beat down the aspirations and success of the rich, which alone
can elevate the poor.

8, 2006

Reisman [send him mail]
is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics at Pepperdine
University’s Graziadio School of Business & Management in Los Angeles,
and is the author of Capitalism:
A Treatise on Economics
. Visit
his website.

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