All Commentary
Thursday, February 1, 1973

Sheltering Ideologies


Some things never change, apparently: the nature of politicians, as distinguished from statesmen, for example. There is camaraderie in the trade; they take care of each other. “You play ball with me, and I’ll play ball with you.” No wonder the Roman magistrates winked at one another when they met! However, I do not damn the politicians who play the game that Petronius so rightly decried. My attitude is rather one of pity: they do not know any better!

Let us define our terms. What is meant by ideology? It is “the study of ideas, their nature and source… the doctrines, opinions, or way of thinking of an individual, class, etc.”

And sheltering? As used here, it means protection from life’s problems — seeking refuge from difficulties — not by building and strengthening one’s own intellectual and physical assets but by using force or coercion to live off the resources of others. In politico-economic parlance these sheltering ideologies range from protectionism and state interventionism to socialism, welfarism, the planned economy, nazism, fascism, Fabianism, communism.

Though sorry for politicians who play the barbaric game of logrolling, my sorrow extends even more to those citizens who elevate politicians to their domineering positions. Why are these low-caliber men in office? Simply because too many voters themselves are of this caliber — they do as well as they know how to do. The dominators in office merely echo those in the population who believe their interests are best served by living at the expense of others. Barbarism in both cases; like begetting like!

Why this harsh term, barbarism? The animal world, except for man, is guided by instincts. Man has lost most, not all, of his instincts. And few human beings have acquired man’s distinctive features: the ability to think for self, personally to will conduct, to make moral decisions. Those who are neither animal nor man —trapped between the two — exhibit barbaric behavior: less than animals in instinctual guidance and short of man in rationality.

A Simple Test

How may we decide whether a person is trapped at the barbaric level or has ascended to the human level? There are many ways, but this simple test in economics should suffice: does an individual believe that one man’s gain is an-other’s loss?

Why is it that the Golden Rule is not universally accepted and applied as the only solution to the social problem? The answer is simple. Mr. Lippman put his finger on the heart of the matter in saying that the fear that “one man’s or one country’s gain is another man’s or another country’s loss is undoubtedly the greatest obstacle to human progress. It is the most primitive of all our social feelings and the most persistent and obstinate prejudice which we retain from our barbarian ancestors. It is upon this prejudice that civilization has foundered again and again. It is upon this prejudice that all schemes of conquest and exploitation are engendered. It is this prejudice which causes almost all men to think that the Golden Rule is a counsel of perfection which cannot be followed in the world of affairs.”¹

At the Human Level

Each person’s position on the ladder of civilization is determined by the sheltering ideologies he condones or sponsors. If he subscribes to exploitation in one or more of countless forms, he has not thought his way out of primitive prejudices. If, on the other hand, he has freed his thinking of these superstitions, he is at the human level.

Except in the case of gambling and thievery (illegal), or state exploitation (legal, but identical in an economic sense), every gain of mine is someone else’s gain as well. I value your product or service more than the cash paid or I would not have made the exchange. You value the cash more than the product or service or you would have retained your wares. Whenever and wherever there are voluntary exchanges, each party gains in his own judgment — the sole basis of assessing value.2 No sheltering ideology here! No hint of exploitation! Each doing for others that which he would have them do for him — the free market way.

Conceded, many people have ascended above the primitive level in other than the politico-economic realm which we are discussing here. But in this area, if we are to judge a man by his urge to plunder others, the number of “saved souls” is distressingly small. Further, this sad trait is not confined to any one occupational category. This propensity to live at the expense of others is as much in evidence among businessmen as labor union members, among professors of economics and clergymen as politicians.

Examples of Protectionism

Let us further identify those who subscribe to — support, condone, promote — the sheltering ideologies.

First, there are businessmen who seek varying forms of government protection against competition, domestic or foreign. Such people are not to be distinguished from labor union members who seek above-market wage rates for themselves by excluding other workers from certain jobs. Each practice is backed by government and thus exploits taxpayers and consumers. In this same category are those educators who demand tenure and go on strike to enforce their demands — all in the name of academic freedom!

Next are the promoters of such public works as The Gateway Arch, Urban Renewal, or moon shots. They may be likened to the monarchs of ancient Egypt. The pyramids were built with slave labor; today’s public works are built by the coercively extorted income representing a portion of your labor and mine. What’s the difference!

Those who support rent control and all other forms of wage and price controls are afflicted with a sheltering ideology. Controls seem to be a plausible way of dealing with rising costs, which in turn result from an increase in the money supply: inflation. Inflation is a device for siphoning private property into the coffers of government, and will be activated whenever the costs of government rise to the point where they cannot be met by direct tax levies —inflation to make up the difference.

Expanding the Money Supply

These excessive costs result because other sheltering ideologies are practiced; prices rise as they would were everyone to practice counterfeiting. Wage and price controls hide the truth; they deprive buyers and sellers of the facts as to the demand for and the supply of goods and services. Thus, exploitation, which most people favor, can go on its merry way — people blinding themselves to reality!

Those who favor paying farmers not to farm — farm supports — are at precisely the same sheltering level as the American bureaucrats of the thirties who killed baby pigs to raise the price of pork, or the Brazilians who burned part of their coffee to raise the price of the balance. Exploitation of both consumers and taxpayers!

Physicians and dentists who support medicare and a system of licensing in order to suppress free entry and competition will, by and large, claim opposition to cartels and monopolies in the business world; they simply want their own cartel. “Dares thus the devil rebuke our sin! Dare thus the kettle say the pot is black!”3

Take account of the millions who favor unemployment insurance — a device so sheltering that many employables prefer their handouts coercively taken from taxpayers to earning their own way.

The Pension Idea

Who, we must ask, is free from sheltering ideologies in one or more of their numerous forms? If the above examples fail to embrace most of the population, then note the multitudes who favor Social Security. Nearly all educational, religious, and charitable institutions—not compelled by law to join in this economic monstrosity — have rushed to the trough. Favored, indeed!

Monstrosity? Reflect on the facts. “…the Social Security tax is not only rising faster than any other Federal tax but is also increasingly unfair to lower income workers…. The maximum Social Security tax rose from $60 in 1949 to $811 in 1971 and will jump to $1,324 in 1974.”4

Here, however, is the shocker: not a cent of the billions collected in Social Security taxes is put in a reserve fund to pay beneficiaries — only IOU’s in the form of government bonds. These billions are spent, as any other tax money, to defray the current costs of government. From what, then, are beneficiaries paid? From more taxes imposed at time of payment, a tax on the beneficiaries as well as on other taxpayers. The enormous cost of this sheltering program is one of the major causes of inflation. If the money in circulation continues to escalate as in the past 33 years, it will total $1.5 trillion by the year 2000. What will the Social Security beneficiary then be able to buy with his dollar? Substantially nothing. 15

The proper function of government — organized force — is to codify the taboos against destructive actions and to enforce them. All creative activities, including the practice of charity, are appropriately left to men acting freely, voluntarily, cooperatively, competitively, privately. This is the freedom philosophy. As I see it, anyone who advocates, supports, or condones governmental intervention into any of the creative areas is a victim of one or more of the sheltering ideologies. And that covers all but a very few indeed!

I know the rebuttal; we hear it everywhere, by TV, radio, the press, nearly all associations —business, religious, educational, or whatever. Its substance? How else are we to care for the poor, the unfortunate, the unemployed, the aged? As a result, faith in free men to create a good society has all but disappeared.

A Record of Failure

The fact is that not a one of these alleged remedies is working. Nothing better illustrates the truth of this observation than one other of the sheltering ideologies: the minimum wage law. This popular panacea harms the very people it is supposed to assist, those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. Workers whose skills are not valued by others at $2.25 per hour, for instance, are relegated to permanent unemployment. Economists, the world over, regardless of their other persuasions, are nearly unanimous on this point, and a moment’s thought should tell us why.°

I insist that every sheltering ideology, be it Social Security, unemployment insurance, medicare, farm supports, wage and price controls, modern pyramids, teacher tenure, cartels, or whatever, has precisely the same debilitating, destructive effect as the minimum wage law. All of these, without exception, harm the very people they are foolishly designed to help. At the root of these panaceas is nothing but an unwillingness to think, a failure to rise out of the primitive and up to the human level.

As to the sheltering ideologies, rare, indeed, is the person who favors none; rare, also, is he who favors but one. What shall we infer from this? Sheltering has a near-unanimous approval. The individual who stands for even one special privilege endorses the principle of coercive exploitation; by his actions he declares that living off others is morally admissible.

The way to test the validity of this coercive exploitation is to assume its unanimous practice. It becomes obvious then that everyone would perish! Parasites die in the absence of a host.

One further observation: to the extent that the responsibility for self is removed, whether voluntarily surrendered or coercively taken over by governmental action, to that extent is denied the very essence of one’s being, and the individual perishes by unseen degrees.

Man’s laudable purpose is not to vegetate, to retire, to seek an escape from life — to be secure as in a coma; it is, instead, to get ever deeper into life, to grow. And this can be accomplished only by an increasing use of one’s faculties, solving problems, surmounting obstacles. For it is an observed fact that the art of becoming is composed of acts of overcoming.

Why not be done with sheltering ideologies? As Maxwell Anderson wrote in his preface to Knickerbocker Holiday in 1938: “The guaranteed life turns out to be not only not free — it’s not safe.”

 

 

FOOTNOTES—

¹ See Consent by Newton Dillaway (Unity Village, Mo., Unity Books, 1967), p. 74.

2 For an explanation of this point see The Exploitation Theory by BohmBawerk (South Holland, Ill.: Libertarian Press, 1960). See also the chapter, “Readiness Is All” in my Then Truth Will Out (Irvington-on-Hudson, N. Y., The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., 1971), pp. 144-152.

3 Henry Fielding.

4 See New York Times, November 19, 1972, First Section, p. 18.

5 For more explanation, see “Social Security Re-examined” by Paul L. Poirot, The Freeman, November, 1965.

6 See the chapter, “A Laborer Looks at Freedom,” in Then Truth Will Out (Irvington-on-Hudson, N. Y.: The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., 1971), pp. 61-66.

 

***

Something for Nothing

Whenever one man gets something without earning it, some other man has to earn something without getting it. That is morally wrong and any nation built on that kind of philosophy is headed for trouble because the real irony of this is that the man who pays nothing actually pays the highest price of all through the destruction of his character and self-respect.

From an address, “Don’t Blame Caesar,” by en W. HILES 


  • Leonard E. Read (1898-1983) was the founder of FEE, and the author of 29 works, including the classic parable “I, Pencil.”