All Commentary
Saturday, June 1, 1991

Perspective: Why Welfare Fails

First, government has no money of its own. What money it spends must be taken from the people, or borrowed in the people’s name. Therefore, when it takes money from some people and gives it to other people, it is engaging in legal plunder.

Second, the forced transfers are two-edged: those from whom the money is taken are aggrieved, while the recipients are demoralized—they have given up some responsibility in exchange for some dependence.

Third, to the extent that they are dependent, the recipients are less inclined to work harder to improve their condition or to save for retirement.

Fourth, once the transfers have begun, they build their own momentum. The bureaucracy that administers them has a self-interest in expanding both its clientele and the range of transfers it offers.

Fifth, by definition the transfers are taken from the productive sector. More and more of the wealth it creates, instead of being reinvested for the benefit of the whole society, is diverted into consumption.

—Kenneth McDonald

Toronto, Canada

Too Many People?

The fact that a country is poor . . . does not mean it is overpopulated . . . . China has the same population density as Pennsylvania. Countries like Taiwan, with five times China’s population density, and South Korea, with four times the density, out-produce her four and five times respectively. Is the problem too many consumers or too many commissars?

—Frank Ruddy, writing in the

May 1990 issue of Crisis

Red Tape in Bangladesh

It is in the Second Nine-Story Building at the Government’s central Secretariat that much of life in this nation of 100 million people slows to a standstill.

Here, in their offices along dark, winding corridors, some of the Government’s 1.2 million bureaucrats sit almost motionless amid towering stacks of dusty files tied neatly, by 19th century British tradition, in red tape.

“We move a file from here to there, but no work is done,” said a senior Government official . . . .

“The more senior the officer, the higher the stack of files on his table, said A. R. H. Doha, a former Foreign Minister who said one of his main accomplishments in office had been to throw heaps of 40-year-old files out of the window . . . .

Each day, outside the guarded gates of the Secretariat buildings, scores of petitioners gather to pursue the fate of their applications, some of which, tied with a delicate bow in red—or white—tape, have been waiting action for years.

The New York Times

Twenty Miles

While driving to Delaware recently, I crossed the George Washington Bridge from New York City to New Jersey. As I went over the bridge, I glanced at the odometer; it is 20 miles from FEE to the bridge.

You see a lot in those 20 miles. There are palatial homes, middle class neighborhoods, and the slums of the very poor. How, I wondered when I returned to my desk the next day, can we reach so many different people?

On one level, of course, we do reach people from all walks of life. Freeman articles appear in newspapers across the United States, from the Street News hawked by New York City’s homeless to The Wall Street Journal. Our Spanish-language translations appear throughout Latin America. Reader’s Digest reprints Freeman articles in several languages around the world. Freeman authors even appear on talk shows.

But on another level, the written and spoken word can only go so far. Our message can help people to understand the freedom philosophy; it can inspire them to want to learn more. But in the final analysis, real change must come from within our own homes, our own families, from within ourselves as individuals. We must serve as exemplars, and live the philosophy we espouse. Then we will reach the most important people in our lives, and, with patience and consistency, our message will spread to the ends of the earth.

—Brian Summers

Environmentalism and Capitalism

Our planet’s environmental problems will only worsen if the artificially created gap between environmentalism and capitalism is allowed to widen. Although far from perfect, a free market is the most efficient way of distributing commodities to consumers. This basic principle holds true whether that commodity is bread or clean air. It is no coincidence that there is a dire shortage of both bread and clean air in the Soviet Union. Instead of suppressing capitalist forces, environmentalists should harness these forces to the planet’s benefit.

—Grant Thompson, writing in the

December 1990 Carolina Critic

A Big Mistake

Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria’s deposed Communist dictator, long regarded as the East bloc leader most subservient to Moscow, looked back on his long political career during an interview . . . and said it was all a big mistake.

“If I had to do it over again, I would not even be a Communist, and if Lenin were alive today he would say the same thing,” said Mr. Zhivkov as he sat in his granddaughter’s luxurious villa on a hillside above Sofia, where he remains under house arrest.

Mr. Zhivkov, 79 years old, ruled Bulgaria for 35 years before being forced to resign just over a year ago. He said he began to doubt the Communist system in the mid-1950s and realized after the rise of Mikhail S. Gorbachev in the Soviet Union that Communism’s underpinnings were faulty.

“I have been a soldier, I have been a Communist, it is my deep belief and conviction that I served my people and my country,” Mr. Zhivkov said. “But I must now admit that we started from the wrong basis, from the wrong premise. The foundation of socialism was wrong.”

—Chuck Sudetic,

writing in the November 28, 1990, issue of

The New York Times