no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized
discipline and one that most people consider to be a 'dismal science.'
But it is
totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on
economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.
on the freeway the other day, I saw a sign on another car urging
me to "demand free energy." Why the driver failed to
include "free food," "free gasoline," "free
designer clothes," "free cars," "free sex,"
"free luxury home," or any other whim was not made clear.
This man’s message expressed the whine heard from men and women
whose parents never helped them to learn that the causal regularities
of nature cannot be suspended for their momentary convenience;
that the costs of the benefits we desire must be incurred by someone.
Such infantile thinking underlies all political programs – the
costs of which are forcibly imposed upon others. The self-serving
demands for these programs are usually disguised more subtly as
"general welfare," "social responsibility,"
the "public interest," or other seemingly selfless ends.
On occasion – as was the case with this driver – the purposes
are more patently expressed, albeit without the foot-stomping
tantrums attending such displays in adolescent years. When I see
or hear such demands, I am reminded of the childhood lyrics "I
want what I want when I want it!"
for "free energy" contained no reference as to how,
or by whom, this resource was to be provided. I suspect that,
had I been able to discuss the matter with this man, his explanation
would have come around to the government (i.e., the taxpayers)
incurring the necessary costs. In my freshman year in college,
I saw an elaborate display – complete with architectural models
– of how a nuclear power plant would operate. I was introduced
to the lie that "because the costs of metering the
resulting electricity would be greater than the costs of producing
it, electricity would be provided free of charge to consumers."
While still in my teenage years, I remember asking "who,
then, would have an incentive to produce the facilities necessary
to generate the electricity?" I was later able to figure
out that such costs would be borne by the state (i.e., the taxpayers);
that electricity, under this scheme, would be no more "free"
than were government schools, highways, parks, or other such programs.
Somewhere in my adult years, I read Jacques Ellul’s observation
to the effect "show me how electrical power is distributed
in a society, and I will show you how political power is
To heap abuse
upon my fellow motorist for his message would be to overlook the
broader question: where might this man have picked up on the idea
that his world should be rendered cost-free for the pursuit of
his interests? Even a small child may come to recognize, upon
reflection, that his or her lemonade stand has probably been subsidized
by the parents. If mommy and daddy can be counted upon to supply
all sorts of "freebies," might the kids grow up expecting
a surrogate parent (i.e., the state) to relieve them of the necessity
of investing their own resources in furtherance of whatever
ends they wish to accomplish?
that, upon having a discussion with this motorized freeway lobbyist,
I would have learned of a seemingly endless list of other projects
for which others should be forced to pay: college tuition? medical
care? rental payments for housing? day-care facilities for his
children? Once infected with the mindset of living in a world
in which the costs of one’s preferences can be forced upon others,
extending the wish-list to other projects is a simple matter.
This, after all, gets us to the essence of all forms of politics:
given the power to forcibly extract resources from others, politicians
and bureaucrats can produce all kinds of wondrous things from
pyramids to palaces to statuary to bridges and highways, . . .
each of which carries costs about which it is considered impolite
to ask questions.
serial killer who "shocks" us with the same behavior
engaged in by the "troops" we are urged to "honor,"
this freeway proselytizer was doing no more than emulating what
passes for the state-directed economic policies that are helping
to destroy civilization itself. The higher one goes up the corporate-state
food chain, the less likely does one witness business firms having
to respond to marketplace pressures such as competition from other
firms, the shifting preferences of customers, and the continuing
emergence of fundamentally new forms of products or methods of
distribution. Recent years have made clear to us that the financial
success or failure of large corporate enterprises depends more
upon the political connections that assign positions at the government
trough, than it does upon the informal processes of the marketplace.
The "steel fist" of the state long ago replaced the
In the disastrous
Bushobama years, the American – dare I say Western? – economic
system has eroded into little more than the corruption we now
know as crony-capitalism. If major corporations experience financial
losses, they know they will be rescued by a variety of government
programs that amount to nothing more than bailouts. To the degree
business firms are able to rely upon the state to cover their
losses, they become like the Post Office, government schools,
or any other political entity. What incentives would they have
to maintain the competitive pressures that foster organizational
efficiency? Indeed, in the absence of the discipline provided
by the pricing system, how is it possible to even speak
In an economic
system divorced from the demands and interests of private individuals,
major businesses become as indifferent to people as do the clerks
at the Department of Motor Vehicles. With the state as the guarantor
of their financial well-being, firms become less interested in
addressing customer demands; the transaction costs that are central
to any form of voluntary contracting can be minimized. Above all
else, the business community has helped to institutionalize the
proposition that the costs of doing business should be
socialized, while profits must remain privatized.
If government bailouts, tariffs, taxation, and other forms of
transferring to the general public the costs that would otherwise
have to be borne by business firms do not convince you of the
socialistic nature of the corporate-state, consider the powers
of eminent domain invoked to benefit corporate interests.
is a common practice for shopping center developers, professional
sports team owners, or manufacturing firms, to turn to the state
to use its violent powers to take land from owners who do not
choose to sell and turn it over to the politically-connected.
How many sports stadiums have been built through this process,
wherein the taxpayers are required to underwrite the costs of
land acquisition and construction – a form of socializing the
costs – so that the team owners may enjoy the profits from their
business? Some time ago, I read of a city in the Midwest whose
city council refused to allow a developer to use the powers of
eminent domain to acquire the land for the building of a hotel.
The developer decided to withdraw his plans for the building,
saying that it would impose too great a cost on him to have to
negotiate with a number of landowners.
is the most pervasive means for mobilizing such anti-social forces
as theft, coercion, killing, deceit, parasitism, torture, lying,
conflict, inter-group hatred, wars, and insistence upon obedience
to authority enforced by violence. The state’s principal purpose
involves forcibly taking property from owners and giving it to
others, a practice that includes imposing costs on those who have
not chosen to bear them. This system is inherently at war with
the self-directed nature of life itself: forcing people to act
as they do not choose to act, and forcibly restraining them from
pursuing ends they do value. As history reminds us – and as we
are discovering for ourselves such behavior destroys civilizations.
practices are so honored and the institutions that engage in them
are so revered by otherwise intelligent people, is remarkable.
That those whose lives will be destroyed by such thinking are
eager to emblazon their support for its underlying premises as
they drive the freeways, is all the more curious.