Mr. Franckowiak is a businessman In Chicago. His business includes a weekly radio program in behalf of freedom, entitled We Still Have 55 Per Cent (referring to the portion of personal earnings not taken by taxes). "The King Is Dead" s from the script of a recent broadcast.
Jean and I and our two daughters, Cindy, age 9, and Gretchen, age 4, spent a delightful four days camping along the Illinois River.
It was a most peaceful and rewarding trip: no telephones, no television—just nature and family and our modern-day camper. And just as was predicted, after the hiking and the cook-outs and the marshmallows and a game or two of Old Maid or Mickey Mouse, Cindy and Gretchen were ready for bed, and Jean and I spent the late hours of the night in quiet enjoyment and reading. Well, without television, what can one do? Might as well read a book. Reading is a good habit to return to and, besides, who knows? We might even learn something! Anyway, Jean was reading a novel and I was reading Professor Ben Rogge’s new book, Can Capitalism Survive?—which brings me to the point of all this.
Cindy saw the book and said, "Daddy, what is ‘capitalism’ or whatever that word is?" And, well, I was called. (Don’t you see? Somebody—even though she’s nine years old—somebody wanted to know what capitalism is.) And I was thrilled to answer. Four hours later, with Cindy sound asleep, I was still talking about capitalism. Well, that’s not true either, but there I was, on the spot—my daughter wanted to know what capitalism is, and I had to come up with a simple answer which hopefully would make sense and satisfy her curiosity. What should I say? Finally: "Capitalism," I said, "is where you’re free to do anything you want as long as you don’t hurt anybody; you can do things without a license from government." Well, with a little discussion about drivers’ licenses and building permits, Cindy was satisfied, but by then I had been set to thinking.
I started thinking about all of the licenses and permits required by our government, and I came to a stark realization. "Why," I thought to myself, "the king is dead!" One by one I began to review those occupations which now require a government license: beauty operator, barber, doctor, lawyer. . . . The government is becoming the great Controller . . . plumber, real estate salesman, insurance broker, bus driver. . . . In the name of public good we all work or don’t work in our chosen professions at the convenience of the state . . . certified public accountants, engineers, architects, and taxicab drivers. . . . Why, the state has absolute control over our very means of livelihood . . . pharmacists, nurses, teachers. . . . We need permits to operate a bank, a liquor store, a restaurant or a grocery store. There isn’t a profession or business in America that isn’t under the control of government—not one place, in all of America, the land of the free. I even needed a permit to camp at Starved Rock. Capitalism, the king, is dead! I didn’t have the heart to tell my daughter Cindy.
My mind began to swirl. I called to mind the case of a man in Shelby, Michigan. He was going to build a new house for himself to replace his old broken-down shack. He was going to build a house, that is, until the county building inspector came along. You see, the owner hadn’t taken out a building permit to build his house.
"No," the inspector said, "there wasn’t anything wrong with the way the house was being built." The owner was doing good work and "yes, the new house would be a lot nicer for the neighborhood" and "yes, the owner was building the house on his own land," and "no, the neighbors were not complaining." As a matter of fact, the neighbors were helping.
Well, then, what was wrong, Mr. Inspector?
"Well," said Mr. Inspector, "for one thing, you must have a set of stamped approved plans, and yes, by all means, you must have a permit. You can’t do any building without a permit."
And so the owner was hauled off to court.
"No," said the judge, "you cannot keep the building inspector off your property." "Yes," said the judge, "it is your property—but you cannot keep the inspector away. Government has a right to inspect. You are wrong, you cannot build a house on your own property without a permit; and because you have continued to build your house in violation of the law, I sentence you to jail—to jail, Mr. Property Owner." And the king is dead.
And so is the tree house in Hackensack, New Jersey. You see, some nice people there wanted to build a tree house in their backyard, and they know about permits. They know the law: You can’t do any building without a government permit—so they went to the building department for a permit.
But the inspector told them there was no tree house listed in the building code, so, no, they couldn’t get a permit. "If it ain’t listed in the code, you can’t build it."
But, my goodness, other people in town have tree houses; why can’t we? thought Mr. and Mrs. Owner. So they had carpenters build the little tree house. It cost $400.
"No," the inspector said, he didn’t think it was a safety hazard but "it’s not listed in the building code, and, well, the tree house was built without a permit."
"Guilty," said the judge, and he fined Mr. and Mrs. Owner $20 plus $10 in court costs, but "That’s not all," said the judge—"You have illegally built your little tree house and therefore you are hereby ordered to tear it down. If you fail to do so you will be held in contempt of court, and yes, I will send you to jail. Don’t you know you can’t build anything without a government permit?" in the United States of America, the land of the free.
And the roofers and the carpenters need licenses to operate and so do the truck drivers and the morticians. No, you can’t bury the dead without a license.
What is capitalism, Cindy? Capitalism was a system, Cindy. It was a system practiced in a country called America—the sweet land of liberty; it was a system where every man, woman and child were free to follow their own special star; it was a system where people were free to do anything peaceful so long as they did no harm to their fellow man. Capitalism was a system which gave the people of our country the highest standard of living on earth and in the process allowed them to enjoy the blessings of liberty and the dignity of human existence, free from the intervention of the state.
Can you go work when you’re a teenager, Cindy? Well, I suppose so—if you get a work permit. Can we have a tree house in our backyard, Gretchen? Well, yes, we do have an OSHA-approved stepladder for you to use, and we could get a licensed contractor to build it for us, but you see, we need a government-issued building permit. What’s a permit, Daddy? Daddy, what is capitalism? The king is dead, and we still have 55 per cent.
Editor’s Note: Can Capitalism Survive? by Dr. Benjamin A. Rogge is available from The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y. 10533. (329 pages. $9.00 cloth; $3.50 paperback.)