All Commentary
Monday, April 1, 1963

How Not to Win

Most Americans seem obsessed with the idea of winning some sort of an “economic contest with the Russians.” I’m not quite sure what the alleged contest is all about. and for the life of me, I can’t understand why it’s impor­tant for us to win it.

Personally, I wish the Russian people well. Nothing would please me more than to wake tomorrow and discover that the Russians had increased by 1,000 per cent the production of goods and serv­ices that the Russian people want and are willing to work for. I would be happy indeed if I were reliably informed that the Rus­sian people could now live as fami­lies in their own homes, instead of being crowded two or three to a room in government housing projects. I would be most pleased to learn that the production of meat in communist Russia had fi­nally exceeded the per capita level of 1913. I wish that every Rus­sian family could own a car, and could be free to travel in it. I am truly sorry that the level of living of the average Russian is still less than one-third of our own. Why should anyone be so mean as to hope the Russians will never rise above their present low level of existence?

Most unfortunately, I see no possibility of any dramatic in­crease in the material level of liv­ing of the Russian people under their present system of an econ­omy that is controlled and di­rected by government. Doubtless it will continue to inch up a bit in the future as it has done during the past ten years—provided there is no major war, and provided that the communist leaders con­tinue their present policy of a sur­prising amount of industrial de­centralization and managerial discreation. When that recent policy is combined with a strengthening of their now-realistic practice of basing each worker’s pay on his individual production—and of us­ing free market prices for dis­tributing many food products—I am confident that the Russian peo­ple will have more goods and serv­ices next year than they have this year. Certainly, I hope so.

But this fact remains: I cannot find even one historic example to show that a controlled economy has ever resulted in a higher level of living than a comparable free economy over a significant period of time. Thus, it is clear to me that all we need worry about in this area is the regaining of the free market here at home, instead of further destroying it in a mis­guided effort to win a pointless statistical race with a controlled economy abroad.




Ideas on Liberty

If They Please

There can be no prescription old enough to supersede the law of nature, and the grant of God almighty, who has given to all men a natural right to be free, and they have it ordinarily in their power to make themselves so, if they please.

JAMES OTIS, “Rights of the British Colonists Asserted and Proved,” 1764.