Mr. Jebb is a British educator, editor, and journalist.
To curtail the freedom of a people so that the lazy or inefficient members of the community should be enabled to remain lazy and inefficient is not only to impair the most precious attribute that mankind possesses, but it is also bound in the long run to destroy the economy of the country that practices it.
When the State curtails individual freedom, it defends its action by saying that it is helping the weak against the strong, that its motives are selfless and therefore impartial, and that it is preventing the exploitation of man by man.
The fallacy in this statement of aims is seldom pointed out. Personal freedom is not oppressive. It is a God-given human right that holds oppression at bay. The first thing that a tyrant does is to deprive his people of freedom. So long as they remain free, he cannot succeed. Those who support the State’s claim to restrict freedom of action to itself are equating personal freedom with injustice. That there is injustice in the world and that undeserved hardship exists, all will agree; but remedies of these evils are not to be found by confining freedom to a ruling clique. Nor will any of the State’s arguments bear examination.
What, for example, is the State’s attitude as regards the weakness or strength of members of society? It assumes that the wage earners of organized labor are the weak members that need help, and it sets itself to nationalize industries and pour money into them, to boost wage rates whenever the cost of living rises, and to solicit popularity by deferring to union demands. But these wage earners are not the weak of today’s world. On the contrary, they are backed and protected by one of the strongest pressure groups that exist in industrialized countries. Other bodies, such as professional men, small proprietors, or that heterogeneous section of the population that through misfortune or lack of opportunity is suffering hardship, have none of these advantages; and the State passes them over. They do not fit the artificial category of those with a claim on the country’s taxes.
Nor can the socialist State justly claim that it is impartial in its distribution of favors. Those in power are influenced by their desire to remain in power. Their actions are therefore dictated more by a determination to stand well with the big battalions who provide most of the votes at elections than by an impartial assessment of need. Indeed, even if this were not so, the distance at which they operate from life as it is lived by millions of diverse individuals would make it impossible to form sound judgments. Their disbursements of other people’s money, so far from giving encouragement to those that need it, produce only a spirit of dependence in the recipients and of frustration among the rest.
Consider again the exploitation of man by man. If a government were really to undertake the task of eliminating this evil (an evil which in the last resort can be cured only by insistence on human rights by the people themselves), it would have to sift all grades of society, for exploitation is liable to occur at all levels. It would have to suppress—to take a single example—the many injustices practiced by the trade union movement where, for the supposed benefit of the mass of members or in the dealings of powerful unions with others less amply financed, individuals can be boycotted by their fellow members and prevented from finding work, and the smaller unions eaten up by their big neighbors. But no socialist government has ever tackled or is ever likely to tackle such instances of exploitation as these. It concentrates its efforts on disputes between management and labor in industry and turns a blind eye to the injustices that take place within the labor ranks. It could hardly do otherwise, for it owes its existence to pressure groups with the most numerous following.
Socialist Blueprint of Utopia
If we want to examine the aims and methods of socialism at firsthand, there is a booklet recently issued by the Labour Party of Great Britain that will enlighten us. It is a glossy document, expensively produced, which sets out under fourteen headings what a socialist government intends to do if it comes into power.
There are two marks that characterize this socialist blueprint of utopia. They are, first, big increases in governmental expenditure, and, second, a bland assumption that all the glittering amenities heralded—in fact, almost everything that is normally considered to be a matter for decision by individuals according to their aptitude and choice—must be organized and handed out by the State.
Rent Control, Socialized Medicine, Old Age Pensions
Let us take a few examples. Under the heading, "Your Home," we read: "The first step must be to repair as far as possible the damage done by the Tories. The Tory Rent Act decontrolled 800,000 rented houses and permitted landlords to raise the rents of the rest. We will repeal it…. We shall stop all further decontrol." That is a good instance of currying favor with a big section of the population in defiance of ordinary justice to the smaller number of owners. Rent control, which the Conservatives began to break down by their overdue Rent Act, had long been utterly unjust as well as grossly wasteful; for, with restricted uneconomic rents, it was impossible for owners to keep their houses in repair. Furthermore, the socialist proposal is hypocritical since houses owned by local governments have no restriction on the raising of rents. In addition to this, taxpayers’ money is to be poured out on the compulsory purchase and modernizing of houses now privately owned.
Another example occurs in the section entitled "Health." This deals with the State Health Service which, while converting the medical profession into what is to all intents and purposes a civil service responsible to the State instead of a profession entering into a free contract between doctor and patient, has lavished millions of pounds on the doctoring of people who could well afford to pay for it themselves. The Labour Party proposes to spend a great deal more of taxpayers’ money on building new hospitals (which used to be built and supported by private initiative) and by abolishing altogether charges on prescriptions, dental treatment, and spectacles—charges which are already utterly uneconomic. In a word, it is going to complete the strangulation of a profession and at the same time squander the country’s money.
One more example out of the many that might be cited: It is proposed that old-age pensions shall be increased. In addition, there is to be a superannuation pension for those who have paid the weekly stamp charge on their incomes. Much of the extra money needed for these purposes will come from the better-off taxpayer.
False Claims of Socialism
It is not surprising that these socialist plans should have been criticized on the grounds that they would necessitate greatly increased taxation on a country that is already bearing an almost intolerable tax burden. The planners’ reply is that this will not be so, because under socialism there will be a rapid expansion of production. "We shall get the machines and factories working at full capacity," they say. "We shall put the unemployed back to work."
These claims are calculated to influence the ignorant voter in favor of the Party. They are flatly untrue. Unless the State assumes control of all the means of production (which would universalize the wasteful inefficiency characteristic of the present nationalized industries), it would have no power to expand production as it promises. But there is a still stronger refutation of its claims.
It is this kind of socialist propaganda that is so dangerous. It aims at attracting the general public by what is in fact an exact reversal of the truth. Trade, and with it the maximum use of the industrial population of a country, will succeed in proportion to the excellence of the product combined with ability of management. This requires special training and a free market in which to exercise it, both of which requirements are absent when the State steps in to control industry.
Two conclusions follow irrevocably: the result of State interference in industry will be an increase, not a decrease, of unemployment; and, therefore, the extra money the government spends on socializing a country will come out of increased taxes levied on a people it has impoverished.