All Commentary
Thursday, November 1, 1990

Perspective: Sweden

In a society where individuals cannot easily increase their income, or accumulate private wealth by ordinary work, they turn increasingly to the zero-sum game of transferring incomes from one another rather than engaging in the positive-sum game of producing income through work, capital accumulation or productive risk- taking. The problem is not that it is impossible to get rich in Sweden, but rather, that it is difficult to remain so through honest productive activities.

Problems associated with public sector monopolies, such as slack management and large bureaucracies, are also typical in Sweden. The notion of uniformity seems attractive to egalitarian spirits, but apart from the normal problems, this creates a new problem in a eontractionary economy when government budgets have to be reduced. It is difficult to find alternative sources of supply. This fosters tensions in society since it becomes imperative for each pressure group to gain access to political power at the expense of others. Since part of the welfare state concerns distribution over the lifecycle, one should add that groups seeking to gain benefits from some programs may hurt their future position if present gains accrue at the expense of programs favoring the elderly.


—Peter Stein,

writing in the Journal of Economic Growth

(Vol. 2, No. 4)

(Note: Please see page 426 for Eric Brodin’s

“Sweden: No Model for Eastern Europe.”)

The Permissive Society

If everyone must be equal and no one is to feel inferior, moral distinctions are no less objectionable than intellectual or social ones, and the surest way of eliminating them is by denying that there is any moral difference between competing values and modes Of conduct. You cannot, for instance, criticize ruthlessness in business if there is nothing wrong with sacrificing honesty to the pursuit of success. Similarly, if it is true that individuals should be free to gratify their impulses in any way they choose, without risking social or moral sanctions, it implies that the idea of an objective moral law is an illusion, otherwise moral neutrality would be indefensible. You cannot, after all, condemn adultery if it is considered that the pursuit of sexual pleasure justifies breaking your marriage vows. It is consequently more than a coincidence that most left-wing intellectuals combine an attachment to socialism with hostility toward “conventional morality.” What adds fuel to the cultural fire is that the process of moral and social decomposition set in train by the Left has been reinforced in recent years by a mistaken conviction among political libertarians that the permissive society is the moral corollary of the free society—a logical extension of freedom into the moral sphere.

—Philip Vander Elst,

Freedom Today, April 1990, published by

the Freedom Association, London, England.

Monitor Update

The September 1988 Freeman carried scuba diver Gary Gentile’s account of his lengthy struggle with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to gain permission to explore the wreck of the Monitor. On July 4,1990, having won his court battle, Gary led a team that photographed the remains of the Civil War ironclad.

Administrative Law Judge Hugh J. Dolan handed down the pivotal decision that allowed Gentile to make his dive. In his decision, Dolan quoted the Idaho Law Review (1980): “A venturesome minority will always be eager to get off on their own, and no obstacles should be placed in their path; let them take risks, . . . let them get lost, sunburnt, stranded, drowned, eaten by bears, buried alive under avalanches—that is the right and privilege of every free American.”

No Peanuts

If your father grew peanuts in the 1940s, there is a good chance that you or your siblings have a government-granted entitlement known as a peanut quota. Should you not inherit a peanut quota, you can expect to pay rather dearly if you wish to obtain one. Today peanut quotas on farm land are usually far more valuable than the land itself.

The nation’s 44,000 peanut-quota owners are protected against any and all competition, domestic and foreign. Moreover, they are guaranteed a$631.47 per ton support price by the federal government. This is approximately twice the price on world markets, and about twice the growing costs of efficient U.S. growers.

The national quota for foreign-grown peanuts is 850 tons a year. This is less than one-tenth of 1 percent of U.S. consumption. Thus, for all practical purposes, foreign-grown peanuts are forbidden to U.S. consumers. However, U.S.-grown peanuts are available to foreign consumers at about half (or less) the price to U.S. consumers.

American farmers who grow peanuts without a Federal quota are “free” to sell their crops in the domestic market only for peanut oil or meal. If they cannot sell their crops in these markets or to foreign consumers, they must turn them in to the government for $149.75 per ton—less than 25 percent of the floor price for the peanuts of quota owners.

Is this equality? Is this freedom? Can this really be America?

—C. F. Fischer, III

Dothan, Alabama

Fighting the Wrong Enemy

I gave a lecture to about 200 people at the University of the North in South Africa, which is a black university. A black student stood up and said, “I’m a Marxist. I believe in Marxism and socialism.”

I said, “Fine, may I ask you a few questions?” I asked him, “Do you think you ought to be able to open up a business wherever you want to?”

He said, “Yes.”

“Do you think you ought to be able to independently negotiate your wages with an employer?” He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Do you think you ought to be able to live wherever you want to live without interference by a third party?”

He said, “Yes.”

Then I said, “You’re really for laissez-faire capitalism. The problem you have been fighting all these years is Communism, because Communism means government ownership and/or control over the means of production.”

—Walter Williams,

speaking at The Fraser Institute,

February 19, 1990.