We posted this classic essay by Leonard E. Read at least twice before, but it seems to have dissolved in the mists of time. We were recently reminded of it by our contributing commenter, Don L.
It needs to be known by all generations down through the ages.
So here it is, or most of it. (We have made a few small cuts to appease our prejudices.)
As I sat contemplating the miraculous make-up of an ordinary lead pencil, the thought flashed in mind: I’ll bet there isn’t a person on earth who knows how to make even so simple a thing as a pencil.
If this could be demonstrated, it would dramatically portray the miracle of the market and would help to make clear that all manufactured things are but manifestations of creative-energy exchanges, that these are, in fact, spiritual phenomena. The lessons in political economy this could teach!
There followed that not-to-be-forgotten day at the pencil factory, beginning at the receiving dock, covering every phase of countless transformations, and concluding in an interview with the chemist.
Had you seen what I saw, you, also, might have struck up a warm friendship with that amazing character, I, PENCIL.
Being a writer in his own right, let I, PENCIL speak for himself:
I am a lead pencil — the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write.
Writing is both my vocation and my avocation; that’s all I do.
You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my story is interesting. And, next, I am a mystery — more so than a tree or a sunset or even a flash of lightning. But, sadly, I am taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril. …
I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me — no, that’s too much to ask of anyone — if you can become aware of the miraculousness that I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because — well, because I am seemingly so simple.
Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me. This sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Especially when it is realized that there are about one and one-half billion of my kind produced in the United States each year.
Pick me up and look me over. What do you see? Not much meets the eye — there’s some wood, lacquer, the printed labeling, graphite lead, a bit of metal, and an eraser.
Just as you cannot trace your family tree back very far, so is it impossible for me to name and explain all my antecedents. But I would like to suggest enough of them to impress upon you the richness and complexity of my background.
My family tree begins with what in fact is a tree, a cedar of straight grain that grows in Northern California and Oregon. Now contemplate all the saws and trucks and rope and the countless other gear used in harvesting and carting the cedar logs to the railroad siding. Think of all the persons and the numberless skills that went into their fabrication: the mining of ore, the making of steel and its refinement into saws, axes, motors; the growing of hemp and bringing it through all the stages to heavy and strong rope; the logging camps with their beds and mess halls, the cookery and the raising of all the foods. Why, untold thousands of persons had a hand in every cup of coffee the loggers drink!
The logs are shipped to a mill in San Leandro, California. Can you imagine the individuals who make flat cars and rails and railroad engines and who construct and install the communication systems incidental thereto? These legions are among my antecedents.
Consider the millwork in San Leandro. The cedar logs are cut into small, pencil-length slats less than one-fourth of an inch in thickness. These are kiln dried and then tinted … [because] people prefer that I look pretty, not a pallid white. The slats are waxed and kiln dried again. How many skills went into the making of the tint and the kilns, into supplying the heat, the light and power, the belts, motors, and all the other things a mill requires? Sweepers in the mill among my ancestors? Yes, and included are the men who poured the concrete for the dam of a Pacific Gas & Electric Company hydroplant, which supplies the mill’s power!
Don’t overlook the ancestors present and distant who have a hand in transporting 60 carloads of slats across the nation.
Once in the pencil factory — $4,000,000 in machinery and building, all capital accumulated by thrifty and saving parents of mine — each slat is given eight grooves by a complex machine, after which another machine lays leads in every other slat, applies glue, and places another slat atop — a lead sandwich, so to speak. Seven brothers and I are mechanically carved from this “wood-clinched” sandwich.
My “lead” itself — it contains no lead at all — is complex. The graphite is mined in Ceylon. Consider these miners and those who make their many tools and the makers of the paper sacks in which the graphite is shipped and those who make the string that ties the sacks and those who put them aboard ships and those who make the ships. Even the lighthouse keepers along the way assisted in my birth — and the harbor pilots.
The graphite is mixed with clay from Mississippi in which ammonium hydroxide is used in the refining process. Then wetting agents are added such as sulfonated tallow — animal fats chemically reacted with sulfuric acid. After passing through numerous machines, the mixture finally appears as endless extrusions — as from a sausage grinder — cut to size, dried, and baked for several hours at 1,850 degrees Fahrenheit. To increase their strength and smoothness the leads are then treated with a hot mixture that includes candelilla wax from Mexico, paraffin wax, and hydrogenated natural fats.
My cedar receives six coats of lacquer. Do you know all the ingredients of lacquer? Who would think that the growers of castor beans and the refiners of castor oil are a part of it? They are. Why, even the processes by which the lacquer is made a beautiful yellow involve the skills of more persons than one can enumerate!
Observe the labeling. That’s a film formed by applying heat to carbon black mixed with resins. How do you make resins and what, pray, is carbon black?
My bit of metal — the ferrule — is brass. Think of all the persons who mine zinc and copper and those who have the skills to make shiny sheet brass from these products of nature. Those black rings on my ferrule are black nickel. What is black nickel and how is it applied? The complete story of why the center of my ferrule has no black nickel on it would take pages to explain.
Then there’s my crowning glory, inelegantly referred to in the trade as “the plug,” the part man uses to erase the errors he makes with me. An ingredient called “factice” is what does the erasing. It is a rubberlike product made by reacting rapeseed oil from the Dutch East Indies with sulfur chloride. Rubber, contrary to the common notion, is only for binding purposes. Then, too, there are numerous vulcanizing and accelerating agents. The pumice comes from Italy; and the pigment that gives “the plug” its color is cadmium sulfide.
Does anyone wish to challenge my earlier assertion that no single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me?
Actually, millions of human beings have had a hand in my creation, no one of whom even knows more than a very few of the others. Now, you may say that I go too far in relating the picker of a coffee berry in far-off Brazil and food growers elsewhere to my creation; that this is an extreme position. I shall stand by my claim. There isn’t a single person in all these millions, including the president of the pencil company, who contributes more than a tiny, infinitesimal bit of know-how. From the standpoint of know-how the only difference between the miner of graphite in Ceylon and the logger in Oregon is in the type of know-how. Neither the miner nor the logger can be dispensed with, any more than can the chemist at the factory or the worker in the oil field — paraffin being a byproduct of petroleum.
Here is an astounding fact: neither the worker in the oil field nor the chemist nor the digger of graphite or clay nor any who mans or makes the ships or trains or trucks nor the one who runs the machine that does the knurling on my bit of metal nor the president of the company performs his singular task because he wants me. Each one wants me less, perhaps, than does a child in the first grade. Indeed, there are some among this vast multitude who never saw a pencil nor would they know how to use one. Their motivation is other than me. Perhaps it is something like this: each of these millions sees that he can thus exchange his tiny know-how for the goods and services he needs or wants. I may or may not be among these items.
There is a fact still more astounding: the absence of a mastermind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being. No trace of such a person can be found. Instead, we find the Invisible Hand at work. This is the mystery to which I earlier referred.
… I, Pencil, am a complex combination of miracles: a tree, zinc, copper, graphite, and so on. But to these miracles that manifest themselves in nature an even-more-extraordinary miracle has been added: the configuration of creative human energies — millions of tiny know-hows configurating naturally and spontaneously in response to human necessity and desire and in the absence of any human masterminding! …
The above is what I meant when writing, “If you can become aware of the miraculousness that I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing.” For, if one is aware that these know-hows will naturally, yes, automatically, arrange themselves into creative and productive patterns in response to human necessity and demand — that is, in the absence of governmental or any other coercive masterminding — then one will possess an absolutely essential ingredient for freedom: a faith in free people. Freedom is impossible without this faith.
Once government has had a monopoly of a creative activity such, for instance, as the delivery of the mails, most individuals will believe that the mails could not be efficiently delivered by men acting freely. And here is the reason: each one acknowledges that he himself doesn’t know how to do all the things incident to mail delivery. He also recognizes that no other individual could do it. These assumptions are correct. No individual possesses enough know-how to perform a nation’s mail delivery any more than any individual possesses enough know-how to make a pencil. Now, in the absence of faith in free people — in the unawareness that millions of tiny know-hows would naturally and miraculously form and cooperate to satisfy this necessity — the individual cannot help but reach the erroneous conclusion that mail can be delivered only by governmental “masterminding.”
If I, Pencil, were the only item that could offer testimony on what men and women can accomplish when free to try, then those with little faith would have a fair case. However, there is testimony galore; it’s all about us and on every hand. Mail delivery is exceedingly simple when compared, for instance, to the making of an automobile or a calculating machine or a grain combine or a milling machine or to tens of thousands of other things.
Delivery? Why, in this area where men have been left free to try, they deliver the human voice around the world in less than one second; they deliver an event visually and in motion to any person’s home when it is happening; they deliver 150 passengers from Seattle to Baltimore in less than four hours; they deliver gas from Texas to one’s range or furnace in New York at unbelievably low rates and without subsidy; they deliver each four pounds of oil from the Persian Gulf to our Eastern Seaboard — halfway around the world — for less money than the government charges for delivering a one-ounce letter across the street!
The lesson I have to teach is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson. Let society’s legal apparatus remove all obstacles the best it can. Permit these creative know-hows freely to flow.
Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed. I, Pencil, seemingly simple though I am, offer the miracle of my creation as testimony that this is a practical faith, as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.
The Left likes to believe – as Obama and Harry Reid often iterate – that it is “on the side of history”.
Is history then stuck with those stale and failed ideas of a Marxian stamp propagated by the likes of Kenneth Galbraith, John Maynard Keynes, or the bone-headed strategies of Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Priven?
Or tending back to the Dark Ages with a resurgence of Islam?
Surely not. A civilization that has put a man on the moon; has invented the computer, the internet, the driverless car; that watches the expansion of the universe; that can replace a faulty human heart with a new one; that has used liberty to become rich, knowledgable, and ever more inventive, is not going to go back to communism or the law of the seventh century desert?
Quo vadis then?
The maliciously lefty and deeply nasty New York Times notices a rise in libertarian opinion in America.
Libertarianism has been touted as the wave of America’s political future for many years, generally with more enthusiasm than evidence. But there are some tangible signs that Americans’ attitudes are in fact moving in that direction.
The NYT goes on to substantiate its claim with figures and a chart.
It defines a libertarian, fairly enough, as “someone who believes that the government is best when it governs least”.
There have been visible shifts in public opinion on a number of issues, ranging from increasing tolerance for same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization on the one hand, to the skepticism over stimulus packages and the health-care overhaul on the other hand, that can be interpreted as a move toward more libertarian views.
The Tea Party movement also has some lineage in libertarian thinking. Although polls suggest that many people who participate in the Tea Party movement have quite socially conservative views, the movement spends little time emphasizing those positions, as compared with economic issues.
The perception that the Tea Party – whose chief issue is the need for fiscal responsibility – has “some lineage in libertarian thinking” is remarkable for that newspaper. It seldom removes its red blindfold long enough to replace it for a short time with blinders. For it to see something that is actually there but not obvious is a lucky moment of illumination worth a cheer or two. The author of the article is Nate Silver. Perhaps he found some cunning way to let that uncongenial revelation slip past editorial oversight.
Or perhaps he and his editors think that libertarian thinking is bad anyway. If we didn’t know that to be the case already, there’s a hint of it in what comes later.
The libertarian opinions, revealed by a CNN poll and quoted in the article, are these:
Some 63 percent of respondents said government was doing too much — up from 61 percent in 2010 and 52 percent in 2008 — while 50 percent said government should not favor any particular set of values, up from 44 percent in 2010 and 41 percent in 2008.
The author, apparently not happy to accept what the poll reveals, comments:
Whether people are as libertarian-minded in practice as they might believe themselves to be when they answer survey questions is another matter. Still, there have been visible shifts in public opinion on a number of issues, ranging from increasing tolerance for same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization on the one hand …”
So a tolerance with which he has sympathy …
… to the skepticism over stimulus packages and the health-care overhaul on the other hand …
So a skepticism he condemns …
… that can be interpreted as a move toward more libertarian views.
How confusing for Nate Silver! Libertarians like some of the things he likes. But they also dislike things that he holds dear.
Well, actually, that is the case with us too.
We welcome the spread of libertarian sentiment.
We too see no reason why marijuana should be illegal.
As for same-sex marriage, we think it is an hilarious farce, but would on no account oppose it. A 12-year old boy once defined marriage for us as “a legal union between two or more things”. Why not more than two? Why not things or beasts as well as humans? If – as the argument goes – they love each other? (Well, we said it’s a farce.)
Where we are strongly with libertarians is on the issue of economic freedom. As our contributing commenter Don L often recommends: accept that the Austrian School is right and allow no government interference whatsoever in economic activity – and abolish the Fed. We also advocate keeping taxes (flat-rated) very low. So low that they cannot sustain a government that does much more than it absolutely has to do – protect the liberty of the people, from outside enemies, and domestic criminals. And enforce the law of contract.
But we too have some quarrels with libertarians.
There are those among them who outrageously condone the corruption of children, even the use of them for pornography “as long as they are willing and are paid for their services”!*
Quite a large number of libertarians are historical revisionists, and some who ridiculously and with evil intent deny that the Holocaust ever happened.**
And most libertarians want America to take no notice of what’s going on in the world beyond its borders, except for trade and vacations. As if ignorance is a protection from a world full of expansionist tyrannies and ideologies.
No. None of that.
But a libertarianism that holds individual freedom as the highest value, and knows that it is only possible under the rule of law; and at the same time is committed to preserving the best of everything America has achieved in the past, is a libertarianism that we can – and do – embrace.
* We cannot link to articles that discuss this. Access to them is “forbidden”.
**Although the article we link to here does endorse what we say that some libertarians deny the Holocaust, it goes too far in criticizing Reason and its sponsors.
On March 23, 2015, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s Prime Minister from 1959 t0 1990 and leader to his last day, died at the age of 91. The city-state he founded is in its 50th year of independence, a prosperous model of economic freedom to all the world.
Singapore was under British sovereignty from 1826 to 1963 (but was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War). In 1959 it became self-governing, and Lee Kuan Yew, leader of the People’s Action Party (PAP), became prime minister. After decolonization in 1963, Singapore joined with other newly independent territories – Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak – to form the Federation of Malaysia. Political disputes led to its expulsion from the Federation in 1965.
From Lee’s obituary in Malay Mail Online:
When Singapore was expelled from Malaysia in 1965, two years after the federation was formed, Lee was left with a tiny city-state of migrants without a common language, culture or destiny, with no natural resources, surrounded by powerful neighbours like Indonesia and China. …
At the helm of a nation-state in its infancy, Lee built Singapore after his own image – stern, disciplined and no-nonsense. He brooked no dissent and did not tolerate corruption. He focused on running an efficient, pragmatic and meritocratic administration. Corporal punishment was used for even minor infractions like vandalism.
The People’s Action Party (PAP) government under Lee’s leadership industrialised Singapore, turned it into an exporter of finished goods and brought in foreign investment. A low-cost public housing programme was implemented and Lee introduced serious measures to tackle graft by creating an enforcement agency that reported directly to him, besides revising government service salaries periodically and increasing the standard of living for workers.
Lee expanded education and made English the working language in Singapore, although the majority in the multi-racial country spoke Mandarin. While he worried of the racial turmoil that could come with a monolingual policy favouring the majority Chinese community, it was his practical concerns that guided his decision since Singapore was trying to attract multinational corporations as a manufacturing hub. …
He also boosted Singapore’s defence force and implemented an Israeli model of national service, where all 18-year-old men are required to train in the programme for two years.
Singapore spends a quarter of its annual budget on defence and is the fifth-largest importer of military hardware …
Lee described himself as a street fighter. A knuckle duster who took on communists with “killer squads” and “Malay ultras” when Singapore was in Malaysia for two years. A tough and unyielding man feared by citizens.
Lee was the longest-serving head of government in Asia and remained in government even after stepping down as prime minister in 1990. Although he had resigned as prime minister in 1990, he had remained in government for another two decades: first serving as senior minister and later as minister mentor.
He only fully retired from the Cabinet in 2011 after PAP’s worst electoral showing since independence. …
Despite Singapore’s success as a “first world oasis in a third world region”, Lee believed that the country was still fighting for survival and that everything could come undone very quickly. He had a paranoid fear of nebulous threats and constantly reminded his people about the country’s vulnerabilities and to be vigilant.
“Where are we? Are we in the Caribbean? Are we next to America like the Bahamas? Are we in the Mediterranean, like Malta, next to Italy? Are we like Hong Kong, next to China and therefore, will become part of China? We are in Southeast Asia, in the midst of a turbulent, volatile, unsettled region. Singapore is a superstructure built on what? On 700 square kilometres and a lot of smart ideas that have worked so far,” Lee said in a 2007 interview with US columnist Tom Plate and new-media expert Jeffrey Cole.
The one time when the man known for his strictness and unsentimentality lost his composure in public was when Malaysia ejected Singapore.
In a press conference on August 9, 1965, where he announced Singapore’s independence and separation from the federation, a tearful Lee described it as a “moment of anguish”, his voice choked with emotion, pausing a few times as he spoke before finally asking for the [TV] recording to be stopped temporarily.
“For me, it is a moment of anguish because all my life … you see, the whole of my adult life … I have believed in Malaysian merger and the unity of these two territories. You know, it’s a people, connected by geography, economics, and ties of kinship … Would you mind if we stop for a while?” he had said. …
Lee focused on building a meritocracy in multi-racial Singapore and strove for equality to harness talent that was the city-state’s only resource. He disagreed with the way Malaysia managed its multi-cultural, Malay-majority society through affirmative action policies.
“Our Malays are English-educated, they’re no longer like the Malays in Malaysia and you can see there are some still wearing headscarves but very modern looking,” he told NYT in 2010.
Lee said Malaysians saw Malaysia as a “Malay country” and was critical of how the Bumiputeras dominated Malaysia.
“So the Sultans, the Chief Justice and judges, generals, police commissioner, the whole hierarchy is Malay. All the big contracts for Malays. Malay is the language of the schools although it does not get them into modern knowledge. So the Chinese build and find their own independent schools to teach Chinese, the Tamils create their own Tamil schools, which do not get them jobs. It’s a most unhappy situation,” he said in the 2010 New York Times interview. …
Lee’s critics have often accused him of suppressing civil liberties and using libel suits to intimidate his political opponents into not running against him. The opposition boycotted Parliament from 1966 onwards, leaving a Parliament completely dominated by the PAP until the ruling party lost a parliamentary seat in a 1981 by-election. The watershed 2011 general election later saw the opposition Workers’ Party winning six parliamentary seats.
Lee believed that democracy was secondary to discipline, development and good governance.
“What are our priorities? First, the welfare, the survival of the people. Then, democratic norms and processes which from time to time we have to suspend,” Lee said at a 1986 National Day Rally.
He shied away from Western-style democracy, saying he had to amend the British system for multi-racial Singapore.
“Supposing I’d run their system here, Malays would vote for Muslims, Indians would vote for Indians, Chinese would vote for Chinese. I would have a constant clash in my Parliament which cannot be resolved because the Chinese majority would always overrule them,” Lee told German magazine Spiegel in 2005.
He laughed off a journalist who called him a dictator, saying, with a touch of arrogance, that he did not have to be a dictator when he could win “hands down”.
“I can get a free vote and win. And there’s a long history why that is so. Because I have produced results, and the people know that I mean what I say and I have produced results,” Lee told NYT’s William Safire in 1999.
Although there were laws against homosexuality they were not enforced. He himself was “indifferent to homosexuality”, but he …
… frowned on [gay] pride parades because he wanted to maintain social order.
“China has already allowed and recognised gays, so have Hong Kong and Taiwan. It’s a matter of time. But we have a part Muslim population, another part conservative older Chinese and Indians. So, let’s go slowly. It’s a pragmatic approach to maintain social cohesion,” he said.
Lee’s cold pragmatism, in line with his ambivalence about the divine, was devoid of romanticism and ideology. …
“Ambivalence about the divine”? Lee was an agnostic. We do not regard agnosticism as “ambivalence about the divine”. (Actually, we regard agnosticism as atheism in kid gloves.) But the authors of the report do point out some contradictions in Lee’s view of religion.
He also practised meditation, in which he repeated a Catholic mantra “Ma Ra Na Ta” for 20 minutes, which means “Come to me oh Lord Jesus”, though he was an agnostic. …
Lee remained a fighter to the end. He didn’t care what his critics thought of him. The final verdict would not be in his obituaries, he said. …
Lee had built the foundation for a thriving Singapore from nothing and turned the country into Asia’s financial centre, a developed country in a Third World region. But he also realised that his time of fighting communists and extremists had passed and that it was a new world now. He called for a “fresh clean slate” when he retired from Cabinet in 2011.
Younger voters who grew up in Singapore’s concrete jungle now worry about the cost of living amid a widening income gap and resent the country’s liberal immigration policy that PAP had long introduced to support its flourishing economy. …
He is not above all criticism even by admirers. He did not allow freedom of the press.
Information was tightly controlled in a muzzled press. …
He liked and tried to enforce tidiness and cleanliness. He outlawed chewing-gum, probably because it makes city streets dirty. It was as if his city-state was his household.
“Even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is going wrong, I will get up,” Lee once said in 1988.
The report also tell us that his favourite book was Don Quixote.
A choice that fits well with his great qualities as a man as well as a leader. As does this:
When his wife Kwa Geok Choo was bedridden in 2008 from a stroke for two years before her death, he used to sit beside her and read her favourite poems to her and tell her about his day, convinced that she could hear him and understand though she could not communicate.
Finally we quote from the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom:
Singapore’s economic freedom score is 89.4, making its economy the 2nd freest in the 2015 Index. … Only 0.2 point behind Hong Kong, Singapore ranks 2nd out of 42 countries in the Asia–Pacific region. …
A highly educated and motivated workforce has added to the economy’s dynamism and resilience, reinforcing Singapore’s innovative capacity. Singaporean society has a low tolerance for corruption, and the effective rule of law strongly undergirds all aspects of economic development. …
Singapore is one of the world’s most prosperous nations. Its economy is dominated by services, but the country is also a major manufacturer of electronics and chemicals.
Singapore has traditionally been lauded for its lack of corruption. As in most countries, there are ongoing concerns over issues of transparency and the power of deeply entrenched groups. Political speech is regulated, inhibiting organized pressure for policy changes. Contracts are secure, there is no expropriation, and commercial courts function well. Singapore has one of Asia’s best intellectual property regimes. … Starting a business takes three days, and required procedures are straightforward. No minimum wage is enforced, but wage adjustments are guided by the National Wage Council.
So even in Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew, there’s been a little state interference in the economy.
The state funds housing, education, transport, and health care subsidy programs and influences other prices through regulations and state-linked enterprises. … Imports of chewing gum and “objectionable” publications are restricted, and some service industries face barriers. …
Now that Lee Kuan Yew has gone – and if he does not “get up” from his grave – what are the chances that the state will grow and regulations will multiply? That while objectionable publications will no longer be restricted (because social media will spread information anyway), and chewing-gum will become freely available, Singapore will drop from second place in the Freedom Index? We hope it will not. But we are too realistic – or pessimistic – to declare such a development unlikely.
Yesterday (March 9, 2015), on Fox TV, Charles Krauthammer pointed out to Bill O’Reilly that the Left now has control of almost all the institutions that shape our culture. He is right.
The chief disseminators of ideas – the universities, the entertainment industry, and almost all the press and TV news media – accept and propound Leftist values and aims almost as naturally and unquestioningly as we breathe air. The only exceptions, as Krauthammer pointed out, are Fox News, “three pages of the Wall Street Journal”, and talk radio. Of course the intolerant dictatorship of the Left wants to silence them. The Left brooks no dissent.
Generation after generation is growing up and becoming the workers and welfare-dependents, the rulers and bureaucrats, the parents and teachers, the writers and preachers of what used to be the free world, convinced to a man and woman – and every one of the other 70-plus genders now compulsorily recognized by the Left – that there is such a thing as “social justice”, that it is supremely desirable, and that it can be attained by government controlling the economy, pretending to control the climate, and tightly regulating how and where and for how long people live their lives.
Leftists really do believe that their dogma is “the truth”, and the only good. Just like religions. Which is why we say that the creed of Leftism, though it does without a traditional divinity, is a religion. It has a god of sorts in History, which it holds to be the uber-director of our destiny, warning us, like the Borg in Star Trek: “Resistance is futile.”
Those of us who still cling to the quaint old-fashioned notion that individuals should be free to live and think and act as they choose, and that their freedom should be protected by the rule of objective law, are a fast diminishing minority. Our own descendants will consider us cranks.
America was founded on the idea of individual freedom protected by the rule of law. Because its people were safe and free, they made the United States the mightiest and the most prosperous country of all time.
It was good while it lasted.
Some immigrants are valuable, some are not. “If they are graduates in Sociology from the University of Berkeley – get them out of here!”
Listen to Thomas Sowell for enlightenment, fresh ideas, some surprises, some laughter – and some very dark pessimism.
This article in praise of Capitalism was first posted in 2011. We reproduce it now because our recent post Communism is secular Christianity (January 14, 2015) reminded us of it.
It is human nature to be selfish. If we weren’t selfish we wouldn’t survive. If we didn’t eat when we were hungry, warm ourselves when we were cold, seek cures for our illnesses, defend ourselves (and our children and our life-sustaining property), we’d die out pretty damn quick. Or rather, we would never have come into existence as a species at all.
We are most of us capable of sympathy with others, and we often willingly give away a thing we own to another person. Some are altruistic. A few will even give up their lives to save the lives of others. Nevertheless, we are all naturally and necessarily selfish.
Christianity and Communism require human nature to change. As it can’t, Christianity’s commandments to love our enemies and forgive those who do us harm turn many a person of good will and high aspiration into a hypocrite if not a corpse. Communist theorists have never settled the question of whether human nature must change so that the Revolution can take place, or whether the Revolution must take place in order for human nature to change. Of course it will never change, but there’s no stopping the collectivist dolts arguing about it.
Capitalism works well because it is in tune with our nature. Adam Smith called it “the natural order of liberty”. Everyone selfishly desires to provide for his needs. To pay for what he wants from others – services and goods – he has to provide something that others will pay him for. Millions do it, and the result is prosperity. Capitalism is an abstract machine most beautiful to behold in the wonder of its workings. When individuals have the incentive to achieve, acquire, and enjoy something for themselves, they’ll go to great lengths to afford it. They’ll compete with each other to provide what others want, toil to make it the better product, and set the price of it lower. The best is made available at the least cost. Everyone is both a taker and a giver, and everyone benefits. True, not everyone’s effort always succeeds, but nothing stops anyone from trying again.
Of course capitalism isn’t a remedy for every ill and discontent. But a capitalist society offers the best chance to an individual to make the best of his condition – being alive – which presents him with a tough challenge – to stay alive for a few score years, and make those years as good as his energy, cunning, and adaptability to conditions outside of his control (plus his statistically likely share of luck), can help them to be.
In a capitalist society no one has a fixed place, whether below, in the middle, or on top. A person can rise, sink, or stay. A truly capitalist society is necessarily a free society in which no one is prevented, by some ruler or ruling clique, from bettering his lot, striving, succeeding, or failing.
Capitalism is the enemy of that God of whom all the children in the British Empire used to sing at morning prayers in school assemblies before the Second World War:
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small;
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all. …
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
He made them high and lowly,
He ordered their estate.
The children were being taught to be content with everything as it was, trusting that God the ruler up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable had ordained how everyone had his fixed place and should stay in it, and because He had ordained it, it must be perfect. The recognition that such a God was an indefensible authoritarian, a whim-driven cosmic dictator, an unjust and arrogant tyrant, came – perhaps unconsciously – to the choosers of Anglican hymns only after a few of the earth’s dictators had been trounced in a prolonged and terrible blood-letting.
But then Socialists took over from God. They decided what was best for humanity. They established the Welfare State. No rich men in castles, no poor men at gates. The State would provide every citizen with depressing accommodation, dull food, health care if he were judged worthy of being kept alive, indoctrination in schools. Though the Socialist State is a slave society, the citizens are not called slaves but Social Security Recipients, National Health Patients, Students, Workers. The belief of their rulers is that they’ll be content because the State provides them with “everything”; they’ll be grateful for the food however poor, the unit in the tower block however depressing, the bed in the hospital however filthy, the indoctrination however boring. The great thing about it, to the collectivist mind, is they won’t have to strive to keep alive. And no one will have cause to pity or envy anyone else, since no one will have less or worse, or more or better – except of course the rulers up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable who ordain that everyone else has his fixed place. They reserve plenty, choice, comfort, luxury, information, and power to themselves.
The recognition that such a State is counter to the human instinct for freedom – call it “selfishness “ if you will – should have come to every sane adult the world over when the Soviet Empire crashed. The idea of Socialism should have died then. But if it did, it was only for a short time. Like the Christian God, it rose again, and lives now in the White House, an administration indefensibly authoritarian, whim-driven, unjust, and arrogant.
Selfish human nature with its instinct for liberty, its impelling desire to possess what is good for it materially and mentally, is the force that can and must defeat it.
At Townhall, John C. Goodman presents and discusses two views of capitalism as expounded by Professor Johnathan Haidt.
The two views are summed up by these videos, made by Professor Haidt.
Capitalism as Exploitation
Capitalism as Liberation
John Goodman comments:
Now I would argue that one of these views of capitalism is factually incorrect. It’s not just a matter of “political and moral values” [as Haidt asserts]. In fact, in a video presentation of his theory, Haidt shows a chart mapping per capita income throughout all of human history. The chart shows (and this should be well known to all economists) that up until the last few hundred years the average human lived on about a dollar a day – in modern terms. At times and places, they might have enjoyed two dollars a day. If they were really, really lucky they might have hit three dollars a day. But that was it.
In other words, for 100,000 years our ancestors lived at the subsistence level. And then [with the advent of the Industrial Revolution – ed] we got capitalism. By that I mean not just free exchange, but also the institutions of capitalism, including enforceable property rights …
In all its guises the exploitation theory has one central message: the reason why some people are poor is because other people are rich. Here is Paul Krugman explaining why middle income families don’t have higher incomes. …
Soaring incomes at the top were achieved, in large part, by squeezing those below: by cutting wages, slashing benefits, crushing unions, and diverting a rising share of national resources to financial wheeling and dealing. Perhaps more important still, the wealthy exert a vastly disproportionate effect on policy. And elite priorities — obsessive concern with budget deficits, with the supposed need to slash social programs — have done a lot to deepen the valley of despond.
Really? J K Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series) is the richest woman in the world. Did she get rich by “cutting wages, slashing benefits, crushing unions,” etc.? I thought she got rich by writing books. How about Oprah? Has she “slashed” any benefits lately? What about Bill Gates and Warren Buffett? When is the last time they were out there encouraging scabs to cross a picket line?
Krugman’s point about political influence is almost as silly as his view of the economy. Earth to Krugman: the real base of the Democratic Party (the party of the left) has become the ultra-wealthy. And their political goals are harmful to the middle class, but not in the way that Krugman imagines. …
The problem for Democrats is that the party is increasingly ruled by the “new oligarchs” … [who] are basically anti-job creation and anti-economic growth – which they see … as a threat to their life style. This puts them squarely at odds with the working class voters who used to be the backbone of the Democratic Party. …
The Democratic Party is [now] the party of the poor and the rich. It’s the middle class that is bolting and voting Republican. And what do the rich want from Democrats? Contra Krugman, they’re not demanding smaller deficits or smaller social programs or even lower taxes. What they want – in addition to looney environmentalism – is for government to protect their life style.
Once the plutocrats settle in a community they become fiercely anti-development and shape their communities in ways that price the middle class out of the housing market. As a result, wherever wealthy liberals tend to congregate, housing is more expensive …
Limousine liberals are a threat to the average worker. But not because they are wage-suppressing, union-busting, exploiters. It’s because their anti-capitalist goals are at odds with the aspirations of ordinary Americans.
It seems to be the case that most – probably all – of the successful entrepreneurs who live in Silicon Valley vote Democratic. Having achieved their own riches in the freedom of opportunity for the individual that the capitalist system gave them, they vote for socialism and the removal of individual freedom that it ensures, so others cannot do what they did.
This is from an editorial at Investor’s Business Daily:
As Russia’s ruble plunges, its economy is fast melting down. …
Russia’s central bank raised official interest rates to 17% from 10.5% in a bid to halt the ruble’s stunning plunge, the largest since 1998’s ruble crisis. But on Tuesday, even that desperate rate-hike move failed, as the ruble continued to dive another 4%.
Next up, in all probability, will be capital controls. Putin might even confiscate citizens’ savings by forcing them to swap dollar-based savings accounts for debased ruble ones. This kind of shabby thievery has been done before, but mostly by Latin American dictators. …
How could Russia’s economy go into meltdown mode so fast? …
The major reason for Russia’s implosion is the decline in oil prices. The country relies on selling oil to earn dollars, and the more than 30% drop in oil prices has hit the economy and the currency hard.
A recent estimate by Russia’s Finance Ministry says oil has to average about $117 a barrel for the government to balance its budget. At a current oil price under $60 a barrel, Russia is a fiscal disaster.
The U.S. fracking revolution is a big reason for this. America now puts out more than 9 million barrels of oil a day — up from 7 million barrels just two years ago.
The oil and natural gas fracking boom is happening on private and states’ lands – against the will and the policy of the Obama administration.
As crude prices have declined, oil producers from Venezuela to Saudi Arabia to Iran have felt extraordinary economic pain. Now Russia’s feeling it too, and with political turmoil growing, Russian and foreign investors are leaving the country in droves — and taking their hard currency with them. …
Capital flight is a disaster for the ruble, and is likely to set off double-digit inflation soon.
Interest rates may have to go even higher to stave off a total ruble collapse – 20%? 25%? 30%? No one knows.
But higher rates, soaring inflation, a 60% decline in the stock market and reduced oil revenues mean 2015 is likely to be a nasty year for Russia’s caving economy. …
“Putin’s consistent policy of increasing state economic control may well be leading Russia on the path to stagnation and economic decline,” according to a report issued by the Heritage Foundation in September. …
[Russia’s] reliance on oil exports, the trigger for this crisis, is an obvious one. … Russia also faces a shocking demographic decline — its population is actually shrinking, and it has the odious distinction of being the only industrialized nation in which the average life span is falling. … Russians with skills and schooling are leaving in large numbers, a brain drain. A 2013 survey found 45% of university students wanted to leave the country and live permanently outside the former USSR. What’s left to run Russia’s enfeebled economy is a shrinking, unproductive remnant.
Russia should try a free market economy. It is the only way to prosperity. And then we could have peaceful trading relations with Russia at last. But Russia is very unlikely to do that. The Russian people have never known freedom under the rule of law. They have never wanted it. They get the governments they deserve.
There should be no minimum wage at all in the interest of a thriving economy.
But if there is going to be such a misconceived thing, it should be very low indeed.
Many minimum wage jobs can be performed by machines. Automation will be hastened by the imposition of a minimum wage.
Minimum wage enforcement can only create unemployment.
It is not what an employee needs that should determine his wage, but how much he can contribute to the business that employs him. If his job earns the business at least three times his wage, he is worth what he is paid. The more he contributes, the more he is worth. If he needs more, he can get it by contributing more. The bigger and better his contribution, the better he’ll do for himself.
This is the way capitalism – what Adam Smith called “the natural order of liberty” – works.
From each according to his need, to each according to his ability.