Socialism, we must admit, gives the illusion of being productive. The productivity, however, exists in spite of socialism, not because of it. The productivity originates in the free, creative energy which ignores or escapes socialism’s repression; that is, which oozes through or around socialism’s smothering blanket. In England, following the Napoleonic Wars, and in the U.S.A. under the NRA and OPA, legal restrictions blanketed large areas of production and exchange. But note this: neither country’s socialistic decrees were entirely obeyed. In each instance there were gross violations of socialism, with the result that the people managed to live. Such material well-being as there was appeared to come from socialism. It actually came, however, from free, creative energy which, for obvious reasons, was more or less unpublicized.
Numerous other distractions help to hide socialism’s essential sterility. For instance, we observe that many government schoolteachers act no less creatively than do teachers of private schools. Scientists in the employ of government have inventive experiences, as do independent scientists and those in corporate employ. TVA, a socialistic enterprise, produces electrical energy of the same quality as that from an investor-owned plant. Agents of the state and private citizens more or less look alike, dress alike, behave alike. We choose our friends as often from one set as from the other. Meeting a stranger, one could not tell from appearance only to which category he belongs.
If we would properly evaluate the effect of coercion, with its total absence of creativeness, we should have to disregard these distractions. We need to recognize that it is not the government schoolteacher who exercises the three types of coercion implicit in socialistic education: (i) compulsory attendance, (2) government dictated curricula, and (3) the forcible collection of the wherewithal to pay the bills. Furthermore, we rarely feel any coercions simply because we meekly obey the laws backed by force; that is, we do send our children to school, we do not prescribe our own curricula, we do pay the tax bill. But refuse to acquiesce in any one of these three phases of compulsion and see what happens!
The scientist employed by the state, trying to figure out how to put three men on the moon, exercises no coercion. The coercion is applied to the collection of the funds which pay him to work as a free agent. He will work just as freely, as creatively, regardless of how his salary is collected. A billion dollars, whether garnered at the point of a gun or voluntarily donated, is in either case a billion dollars. A dollar extorted or a dollar freely given is still a dollar, with a dollar’s purchasing power.
In the absence of socialism’s coercion, each dollar would be used in accord with its owner’s choice, to buy food or clothing, to educate the children, to take a vacation, to buy a sailboat. Coercion only diverts the dollars from owner use and puts them to state use. If, as predicted, putting three men on the moon will cost $20 billion to $40 billion, then that much freedom of choice will be destroyed. This enormous portion of our productivity will be socialized. The people are coercively relieved of their individual choices in order to permit a single choice, exercised by whoever heads the socialistic regime. Authoritarianism is forcibly substituted for individual liberty. What we witness here is a diversionary process accomplished by police action.
We will go astray in our analysis of this complex process unless we examine coercion at one of its points of impact—for instance, the impact on the citizens who are forced to foot the bills. So, ask yourself this question: Is the extortion of your income (in order that another may have the say-so as to what it will be spent for) a creative act? Does it make any difference to what use the other will put it? Charity, relief, moon shots, or whatever? Does it make any real difference whether or not the other is a person or a collective? There is no rational, affirmative answer to these questions. Extortion—coercion—is destructive. It destroys your freedom of choice! Coercion, by its nature, is destructive.
Let’s draw an illustrative distinction between the coercive act and the creative act. A slap in the face (or the threat thereof) is a mild example of coercion. It is milder than the penalty for absolutely refusing to pay one’s tax for a federal urban renewal project in somebody else’s town.
Now, to illustrate a creative experience: The medical student examined the slide in his microscope, but the culture he had been instructed to develop had failed to grow. Thousands of medical students had experienced that identical failure. But this student, observing that mold surrounded the hoped-for culture, had a flash thought: Is the mold, perhaps, antagonistic to the development of this culture? It was, and this experience led to the discovery of penicillin.
Contrast the results of a slap in the face and the flash thought, and the distinction between coercive and creative actions is clear.
A Spiritual Phenomenon
That socialism, founded on coercion, cannot bring about the production which socialized distribution presupposes, is plainly evident once we understand the genesis of all production. Ralph Waldo Trine put it plainly:
Everything is first worked out in the unseen before it is manifested in the seen, in the ideal before it is realized in the real, in the spiritual before it shows forth in the material. The realm of the unseen is the realm of cause. The realm of the seen is the realm of effect. The nature of effect is always determined and conditioned by the nature of its cause.4
Professor Ludwig von Mises, noted free market economist, supports this view:
Production is a spiritual, intellectual, and ideological phenomenon. It is the method that man, directed by reason, employs for the best possible removal of uneasiness. What distinguishes our conditions from those of our ancestors who lived one thousand or twenty thousand years ago is not something material, but something spiritual. The material changes are the outcome of the spiritual changes.5
Just imagine how antagonistic is a slap in the face, or the threat of death or imprisonment to those spiritual experiences which precede manufacture: insight, intuition, inventiveness, cognition.
The fact that creative action can and does take place even when financed by funds coercively collected does not in any way modify my assertion that coercive action is destructive, not creative. The Kremlin’s master destroys freedom of choice on a big scale. Russians may not choose how the fruits of their labor are to be expended. Mr. Big does the choosing in their stead. He chooses to use much of the income thus extorted—socialized—for sputniks and other military hardware.
We now come to the most important point in this thesis: True, Mr. Big or the head of any other socialistic state, with the money he has obtained by diverting funds from producers’ use, can induce creative action along the lines of his choice. But observe where this authoritarian process channels creative energies: it puts genius at work on questionable if not downright evil ends! Let us remember that not all genius is employed on the side of the angels. Is it not plain that creative energies can be turned to destructive ends? Do we need any more proof of this than the amazing ingenuity that has brought about the most destructive force ever devised by man? But putting aside the H-bomb, and such miraculous and fascinating follies as orbiting monkeys and men around our earth, reflect on the countless economy-destroying projects that result from man lording it over his fellow men. Man cannot feign the role of God without finally playing the devil’s part. This is to say, as Emerson so eloquently phrased it:
Stated in other terms, man cannot use coercion for other than destructive purposes; for even a legitimate police action for defense is still an inhibiting or destructive action, however necessary a police force may be. Raise billions by destroying freedom of choice—the socialist format—and the creative energies the funds finance will rarely serve the higher ends of life. Three men on the moon, farmers paid not to farm, flood control that floods land forever, mail delivery that bears a $3 million daily deficit, the rebuilding of urban areas that the market has deserted, the financing of socialistic governments the world over, are cases in point. None of these is a creative or productive endeavor in the full sense of those terms.
I began this chapter with the resolve to demonstrate that socialism depends upon and presupposes material achievements which socialism itself cannot create, that socialism is productively sterile. But after thinking it through, I must confess that my affirmation can be proven only to those persons who see the long-range effects of present actions; and to those who know that man playing God is a prime evil, an evil seed that must grow to a destructive bloom, however pretty it may appear in its earlier stages.