The Individual Versus the State

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My last article, “Shame on Walmart,” evoked a spirited and healthy debate among readers.  In the broadest sense, the debate boiled down to free-market capitalism versus government intervention.  I say broadest sense, because many readers stated, either directly or indirectly, that the government should only intervene “a little” when it comes to regulating business and helping people who do not have the means to fend for themselves.

In real terms, what government’s helping “a little” equates to is a so-called mixed economy, which the late, great Henry Hazlitt meticulously explained, in Economics in One Lessondoes not work.  All Western countries have long had mixed economies — i.e., socialism mixed with just enough capitalism to keep tax revenues flowing to pay the welfare tab (both social and corporate welfare).

Among other things, the capitalism portion of a mixed economy also makes it possible to provide a cushy lifestyle for politicians and millions of government employees, subsidize countries who hate us, and fight a war here or there whenever the political need for a manmade conflict arises.

The liberty/tyranny pendulum tends to swing back and forth in Western countries, though for the past fifty-plus years the overall move has been toward tyranny.  And in the United States, in particular, the pendulum has been traveling at an accelerating pace toward tyranny over the past twenty-five years, and particularly the last five.

The question now is, will it swing back toward liberty any time soon?  No one knows for certain.  What we do know from a study of history is that if the pendulum swings too far in the direction of tyranny, there is a danger that it might get stuck there for fifty to a hundred years.  (Think Russia, Cuba, North Korea, China, and Venezuela, among others.)

But let’s focus on the basic question of “a little bit of government” versus a laissez-faire society.  This fundamental question goes back centuries — at least as far back as the Roman Empire, which closely resembled the United States of today with its seeming determination to destroy itself from within.

There are thousands of books that have been written about why capitalism is the best system possible, not only for people in general, but for those on the lowest rung of the income ladder.  However, in the short space I have available here, I’ll zero in on just a few of the most important reasons.

First and foremost, government, by its very nature, is inherently corrupt.  It’s a theft-driven gravy train for the most self-righteous, nefarious, unethical individuals among us — politicians.  Even those who come to Washington with good intentions soon realize that they have only two choices:

  1. Do the bidding of those who contribute to the campaigns that keep them in office, or …
  2. Be voted out of office.

People who believe that in certain cases the government has to do something in order to help “the needy” and keep private enterprise from raping and pillaging the masses are either naïve, suffering from a bad case of Kumbaya Disease, or badly lacking in information.  As a result, their emotion-driven actions are on autopilot.  There is nothing that can sober up such emotionally blinded people like facts.  And the facts all speak against government and for a free society.

The nice thing about a free society is that people are free to give their money to whomever they believe to be in need.  It’s a subjective decision that a bunch of corrupt politicians are not in a moral position to make for anyone else.

The proposed merger between Comcast, America’s biggest cable and broadband company, and Time Warner Cable, the country’s second-biggest cable firm and third-largest broadband company, is a prime example of why government is not needed to protect people.  Critics of these villainous cable giants argue that the merger will be bad for consumers.

And, indeed, it’s almost a certainty that such a merger would result in higher prices and even worse service than each company now provides.  Thus, if bureaucrats prevent the two cable behemoths from merging, most people will cheer the government for using force to protect consumers from these negative consequences.  But, alas, they miss the bigger picture — what Henry Hazlitt referred to “the invisible aspect” — how much more consumers would benefit from a truly free market.

After all, even if the merger doesn’t go through, Comcast and Time Warner will still hold cable monopolies in the geographic areas where they operate.  The best thing that could happen for consumers is for the government to have no say-so whatsoever as to what cable companies can and cannot do.  That would include having no say-so about who could go into the cable or broadband business.

If you and I want to start a cable company, and can raise the necessary money, no one should be allowed to prevent us from doing so.  That is what would force companies like Comcast and Time Warner to lower their prices and provide better service.  Totally free competition would be far superior to government-created monopolies.  The marketplace is a far more effective regulator, and far better protector of consumers, than government.

Andrew Carnegie’s Carnegie Steel Company (which ultimately became part of U.S. Steel Corporation) and John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co., among other giants of their day, enjoyed near monopolies, but never total monopolies, because there was always competition lurking on the economic horizon.  The result?  They drastically lowered the price of steel and oil to fend off competitors, making steel and oil products affordable for the common man.

The hump that low-information and kumbaya voters have trouble getting over is that these men reduced their prices for purely selfish reasons.  They were smart enough to understand that by lowering their prices, they would sell more of their products and make greater profits.  That, in turn, brought the invisible hand of the marketplace into play, with the most obvious effects being a better life for consumers and the creation of millions of jobs.

Regardless of how bad things get in the U.S., if you care about yourself, your family, and those who are suffering financially as a result of our invisible depression, you should be vigilant about thinking and acting as an individual.  The collective is a progressive fantasy that is used to entice people who not only lack knowledge, but tend to think with their hearts instead of their heads — which leads to fewer jobs, lower wages, and a more difficult life for the most vulnerable among us.

Groups do not have minds.  They are composed of individuals with individual minds, individual likes and dislikes, individual morals, individual skills, individual wills, and individual views of the world.

Even though I have never met you, I can say without hesitation that I trust you, as an individual, more than I trust a group of politicians and bureaucrats whose main focus is on keeping their jobs and leading the good life at the expense of millions of taxpayers.  It doesn’t take a village for a country to prosper.  It takes millions of individuals seeking their own happiness.

As to the centuries-old question of those who kneel at the altar of the omnipotent state — “But what would happen to the poor in a totally free society?” — it is to our good fortune that human beings have the unique capacity to transcend themselves and feel both empathy and sympathy for others.

Family first, friends second, the downtrodden third.  In a totally free society, those in the last group would not only be helped by others through a wide variety of charities, they would also gain two important things that they lack in a government-controlled economy:  upward mobility and self-esteem.

If you loved the American way of life before it was fundamentally transformed into its present tyrannical form, the most important thing you can do is to think and act as an individual and not allow yourself to be intimidated by those who either lack the knowledge to understand or have ulterior motives for wanting government to continue to grow.

Long live individualism!

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