All Commentary
Monday, June 1, 1998

Makers and Takers: How Wealth and Progress Are Made and How They Are Taken Away or Prevented

A Refutation of an Enormous Amount of Statist Disinformation

Daniel Hager is senior research associate with Patrick Henry Associates in East Lansing, Michigan.

Man is distinguished from the lower orders of animals because of the frontal and prefrontal lobes in his brain that foster thinking ahead and planning. Man becomes a maker, rejecting momentary gains for the adoption of long-range goals, while the lower animals are merely takers. Government, inherently an instrument of force and plunder, constitutes a regression to a lower state of being. If humans are to prosper and thrive, government must be kept in tight check, just as the Founding Fathers of the nation advocated.

In Makers and Takers, author Edmund Contoski offers a timely warning. While the philosophy of individualism promoted the nation’s rapid advancement, America has now imperiled itself by turning toward collectivism. The political drive for “diversity” aims at social and economic equality, negating what Madison cited as “the diversity in the faculties of men.” Contoski writes, “Equal rights, correctly speaking, mean only that men are entitled to equal protection against force, which means: the liberty to be unequal in every other respect. Any attempt by government to make men equal in any other respect necessarily violates their rights, their liberty.” The implications of this attack on equality before the law gravely concern the author.

According to Contoski, democracy needs to be limited because it is based on the fallacy that “wisdom resides in the majority, . . . that wisdom is defined by popular opinion,” in defiance of Newton’s demonstration of “the universal nature of truth.” He asks whether people would care to have a decision on proposed surgery submitted to a popular vote, concluding that “It would seem desirable to have as few decisions as possible determined by democratic vote.” Alas, our trend runs in the opposite direction.

He takes issue with John F. Kennedy’s idealistic appeal, “Ask . . . what you can do for your country.” Claptrap, says Contoski, who offers a better alternative: “Ask what you can do for yourself.” The contrasting cases of John Fitch and Robert Fulton illustrate his point. Fitch developed the steamboat in 1785 and offered the invention to “the country” and various state legislatures, but was continually stymied by indifferent politicians. Two decades later, Fulton refined the concept, received a patent, and launched water transportation’s Steam Age: “Hoping to reap profits for himself, Fulton did more for his country incidentally than Fitch did by intention and years of self-sacrificing perseverance.”

But now big government has the upper hand, achieved through what Contoski terms the collectivists’ “quiet conquest” of lower education and their domination of higher education, as well as most information media. Constant propagandizing makes it easy for government to expand through economic regulation. Contoski describes regulation as a form of coercion fueled by the alleged need to protect “the common good.” Actually, it’s a system in which “some people obtain material benefits by employing force against others.”

The author devotes many pages to demolishing excuses for regulatory intrusion. For example, he cites Lawrence Reed’s refutation in The Freeman (November 1994) of Upton Sinclair’s truth-straining “exposé” of turn-of-the-century meatpacking houses that led to the 1906 Meat Inspection Act and notes that its legislative successor, the ineffectual Wholesome Meat Act of 1967, was similarly driven by distortions of the truth. He also quotes from Edith Efron’s exhaustively documented and lamentably neglected The Apocalyptics: Cancer and the Big Lie to counter public hysteria about synthetic chemicals, and he disproves much more hokum.

The collectivists have indoctrinated enough generations of Americans that the nation’s original guiding principles have been nearly expunged. Contoski is right on target in writing, “The sad fact is that most Americans have never really understood the American system. They were fortunate enough to have been born into it and benefited from it, but they didn’t really understand it.” Most of our citizens’ thinking is so ingrained with statist assumptions that they cannot conceive of any alternative and thus fear freedom.

This hard-hitting book can break apart encrusted thought patterns. It refutes an enormous amount of statist disinformation and explains that people should not fear the makers—the capitalists who bring us prosperity—but instead worry about the takers who obstruct them. Read this superb book, then pass it along.