All Commentary
Friday, June 1, 1962

The Wool Over Our Eyes

Mr. Sparks is a business executive and past president of the Canton, Ohio, Chamber of Commerce.

More Often than one would be­lieve possible, business and profes­sional men are taken in by the glibness of a “liberal” speaker. Many civic luncheon clubs are similar to mine, to all appearances conservative, with members who speak out against government en­croachment in their lives. Yet I have witnessed some of our busi­ness and professional members congratulate the speaker for say­ing things contrary to their pur­ported beliefs, or at least opposed to the best interests of their busi­nesses and professions.

Recently a federal government employee presented a slide-film and commentary on the agricul­tural program. He was a likable young man with a disarming man­ner who set out to explain that in this program the farmer actually subsidizes the taxpayer! The low cost of food is proof that the government program works well, he said, implying that government in­tervention accounts for the rela­tively small percentage of income spent for food in our country as compared with others. He pointed out that nine out of ten persons were needed to produce food in colonial times, now less than one out of ten, also attributing this progress to government farm pro­grams. The meeting chairman re­ported later that he had numerous compliments on his selection of the speaker, and there were many side comments that the govern­ment farm program was not so bad after all. Granted, perhaps only a minority were fooled. Most members may have silently dis­agreed, though few voiced their dissent.

Several years ago I sat in an audience composed chiefly of col­lege graduates who were members of a club reputed to be basically conservative in philosophy. The speaker’s message contained several “liberal” suggestions, includ­ing a strong recommendation that Red China be admitted to the United Nations. He was techni­cally an excellent speaker with in­teresting tales high-lighting his commentary. He skillfully wove in phrases in support of individual freedom, but somehow each pas­sage wound up advocating more government interference, higher taxes, relaxation of vigilance against communism, and Red China’s admittance. When he finished, the audience gave him a warm and lengthy ovation. I sat without moving, appalled that the applause had gone far beyond mere courtesy, indicating enthu­siastic approval of his address.

Had I misunderstood him? Was I too critical in my evaluation of what I thought he said? My doubts quickly evaporated when a few others in attendance confirmed my viewpoint. Later, a group of us gathered at a friend’s house. One businessman who had been in the audience thought the speaker was excellent in his basic premise in favor of “American­ism.” Not until the points were reviewed one by one did our friend realize how they had been dis­guised to promote the socialist philosophy.

These examples are not to illus­trate that some people are more easily fooled than others, but to show that a good critic must thoroughly know the subject if his appraisal is to be worth anything. Reputable persons who deal in pre­cious stones, for example, always make sure they know how to rec­ognize and evaluate them; other­wise, financial disaster will be close at hand.

The citizen of our country is also dealing in a precious com­modity, namely, his freedom to own property and to make his own decisions. Failure to understand the nature of freedom will lead to its loss and to subsequent disaster far more tragic than financial bankruptcy.

Three Basic Types

Basically, there are three de­scriptions of government, as pointed out by Frederic Bastiat, mid-nineteenth century French author:

1.      Where the few plunder the many

2.      Where everybody plunders everybody

3.      Where nobody plunders any­body

Legal plunder occurs when “the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong.”¹

Our government, founded on the third idea above, has deteriorated uncomfortably near to the second classification. Political parties, in or out of power, seek favor of groups (voting blocs) by award­ing or promising them special privileges at the expense of others. When everybody plunders everybody, producers find little in­centive to produce. Everybody finds it less painful to plunder than to be plundered,2 at least up to that certain point when nothing remains to be taken. It is diffi­cult to tell how far the United States has moved toward universal plunder, but there is little doubt that we are going in that direc­tion.

Other nations of the world are now challenging our vaunted pro­ductivity. In the terms of the sports page, they are lean and hungry to get on top, while our team has grown fat and sluggish. Under the system, “Nobody plund­ers anybody,” our nation was the production wonder of the world. But somehow we have grown wool over our eyes. We have replaced the winning combination with a sure-fire loser; many businessmen applaud the winsome chap speak­ing in support of more socialism—because they have not taken the trouble to find out what his words really mean.

Examples of Legal Plunder

Hundreds of communities, headed by private businessmen, are trying to plunder others by joining the rush for federal aid to refurbish or rebuild their down­town areas. Those who are plun­dered may seem to the plunderers to be obscure nameless persons; but the victims are real persons, including industrialists in their same community and merchants in the outlying suburbs, trying to produce goods and services. Thus, one more burden is added to the backs of the nation’s overtaxed producers.

Recently an airline sought to drop a certain route because it was unprofitable to operate. Whereupon, numerous industrial and business leaders petitioned the government to forcefully hold their sister private enterprise in that loss situation, even though another airline, better equipped for feeder flights, was anxious to take over the service. When one private enterprise enlists the help of government to prey on another private enterprise, this dooms all private enterprise to oblivion.

Another example—there are so many—relates the story of a pri­vately-owned newspaper in our newest state of Hawaii. Editorially, it applauded the federal gov­ernment for starting a govern­ment travel service, even though the budgeted $2.5 million is only a “token effort” in the eyes of the newspaper. The publisher either is unaware or does not care that he advocates plundering his fellow citizens, taking away their right to use the fruits of their own efforts for the benefit of himself and his vacationland community.

Overburdened Producers Find It Difficult To Compete

The American producer has been loaded with so many burdens—a fair proportion of his own making—that he is no longer the peer of the world markets. Labor unionism generally has failed to cooperate toward production effi­ciency. Little wonder that foreign products are cutting deeply into our markets at home and abroad! Adding to the burden are those plunderers who crusade in the name of the poor and the down­trodden, demanding social welfare for the irresponsible and unpro­ductive. When voluntary charity and individual responsibility are replaced with legal “charity” and government “security,” then dis­appears that inventive self-reli­ance that is born of necessity. Through minimum wage laws and unemployment benefits, we reward the idle by taxing the industrious, and insist that the marginal worker apply for “relief” rather than drop the price of his services to what they might be worth.

How many of our representa­tives in state and national bodies have had the knowledge and cour­age to vote against the laws of plunder? How many have stood against increased unemployment compensation, higher social secur­ity benefits, and pork-barrel money-grabbing for depressed areas? One can hardly expect these legislators to act otherwise; unfortunately, they reflect the de­mands of their constituents.

No constituent should know bet­ter what is at stake than he who owns or runs a business or prac­tices a profession. And no constit­uent has more influence than a sincere, intelligent entrepreneur who knows the score. These men are the leading producers. They are close to the market place and know how it operates. The key players in the all-important game between a big oppressive govern­ment and a free market place are business and professional men. But for some reason, the wool over their eyes has blinded many of them to the truth. Yet time after time we find supposedly successful businessmen applauding the schemes of those who would do away with freedom of choice.

  • John C. Sparks, who died on March 27, 2005, served on the board of trustees of the Foundation for Economic Education for many years. In the mid-1980s, following his retirement from business, Mr. Sparks served a term as FEE’s president.