Freeman

ARTICLE

People are Not Goldfish

JUNE 01, 1965 by D.M. WESTERHOLM

 Mrs. Westerholm is a Registered Nurse, housewife, and student of liberty of Gardena, California.

During a recent hospitalization, some imaginative friends brought me a small bowl of goldfish. Some of the nurses appeared dubious at first, but the fish behaved quiet­ly and were allowed to remain—proving conclusively that nurses are human, after all.

I was amused by their golden dartings and flirting tails (the fish, that is—not the nurses) and the condescending acceptance of food and the way they would ex­change stares with me while open­ing and closing their mouths—obviously speaking noble thoughts which I was much too stupid to comprehend. One morning, how­ever, after their water had been changed and we had fed them their scientifically balanced diet (feel­ing so paternalistic and protective about the whole thing), it oc­curred to me that here was a way of life deemed ideal by many hu­mans.

You think not? Well, consider: these little denizens of the not-so-­deep pay no rent or mortgages, do not have to work for their food, have all medical care provided, have no worries about old-age se­curity, don’t have to concern them­selves about competition or self-protection or, indeed, accept any responsibility at all. All is provided by a benevolent master. Is this not the utopian existence so desired by millions? Plainly, for my small finny friends, the war against poverty has been won—fins down. I’ll admit that the life of a cap­tive goldfish is not completely anal­ogous with human paternalistic socialism, but it’s close enough for some discomforting comparisons. Some folks might ask: "What’s so discomforting about it? I should have it as good as those goldfish, and my worries would be over!" With my own worry and concern about the financial future, I can understand the question. The answer lies in another question, however: "What happens to my goldfish if I run out of fish food? Or forget them? Or drop dead?"

Those fish haven’t learned sur­vival techniques, because their en­vironment has not demanded such learning. True, they still have the survival instinct, but their arti­ficial rather than natural environ­ment will not long support them if unattended—not even if their individual initiative and knowl­edge of self-responsibility and self-protection had not been atro­phied by life-long disuse.

So, too, with a nationally so­cialized environment for humans. Sound economics, in effect, is the "fish food" of human society—essential to its life. Socialism is not economically workable. (Just ask the communists, who are somewhat clandestinely re-adopt­ing various capitalistic methods, purely because socialism doesn’t work.)

A government can operate at a deficit, inflating the currency, draining the internal resources of the nation and the people, for just so long. Eventually, inevitably, it will run out of fish food. When that happens, the only hope for the citizens will depend upon their own survival efforts—individual­ly. They will have to find, or grow, or manufacture their own "fish food."

Individual initiative, resource­fulness, full and efficient accept­ance of personal responsibility—these are the tools needed for hu­man survival outside the goldfish bowl. And these tools are not easily forged, or preserved, in the stulti­fying environment of paternalis­tic socialism or other varieties of collectivism.

I, for one, have no desire for the deceptive, dangerous, goldfish-bowl way of life. After all, people are not goldfish. People have the intelligence, the size, the physical and mental capacity to form their own environment. Why, then, should we be satisfied with an en­vironment so precarious and dang­erous as that forced upon my pretty, utterly dependent, little goldfish?

ASSOCIATED ISSUE

June 1965

comments powered by Disqus

EMAIL UPDATES

* indicates required

CURRENT ISSUE

December 2014

Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
Download Free PDF

PAST ISSUES

SUBSCRIBE

RENEW YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

Essential Works from FEE

Economics in One Lesson (full text)

By HENRY HAZLITT

The full text of Hazlitt's famed primer on economic principles: read this first!


By FREDERIC BASTIAT

Frederic Bastiat's timeless defense of liberty for all. Once read and understood, nothing ever looks the same.


By F. A. HAYEK

There can be little doubt that man owes some of his greatest suc­cesses in the past to the fact that he has not been able to control so­cial life.


By JEFFREY A. TUCKER

Leonard Read took the lessons of entrepreneurship with him when he started his ideological venture.


By LEONARD E. READ

No one knows how to make a pencil: Leonard Read's classic (Audio, HTML, and PDF)