OUR COUNTRY has stumbled into socialism during the past half century; by now—1964—we have adopted nearly all the things socialists have long urged upon us. A reading of the ten points in the Communist Manifesto confirms this. We who are aware of socialism’s built-in destructiveness have watched this trend with apprehension. Foreseeing the end result, we are forever predicting, or warning against, the impending catastrophe which we think hangs over our economy.
Our dire predictions, however, fail to ring bells with many people. As a rule they are met by the rejoinder, “We never had it so good.” And, so far as statistical measurements of material well-being are concerned, that claim appears to hold water. Prosperity, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, is reported to have increased as follows:
Today’s national income of $2,300 per capita is double what it was (in constant dollars) forty years ago, and it is higher in the face of a 70 per cent increase in population and a 20 per cent reduction in the hours of paid work per capita.
Output per man hour has grown over the same period at the average annual rate of 2.6 per cent.
Today’s higher income is more evenly distributed than the lower income of earlier years.
The economic difficulties of most everyone have been lessened through the establishment and broadening of various social welfare programs.
The four recessions we have encountered since World War II are among the milder in our history, which means an unusually long period free of serious depressions.1
Now, consider what has happened politically during this period. Statism, measured in terms of governmental expenditures per capita, has advanced from about $80 in the years just after World War I to more than $700 now.2
Small wonder, then, that most people, observing statism and prosperity advancing coincidentally over so long a period, conclude that the growth of statism is the cause of the increased prosperity! But if there is a positive correlation here, why not expand prosperity indefinitely by the mere expedient of increasing governmental expenditures? This absurdity needs no comment.
Nonetheless, it is true that the comeback, “We never had it so good,” cannot easily be proved wrong statistically. A man leaping from an airplane at high altitude will, for a time in his fall, have the feeling of lying on a cloud. For a moment he would be warranted in exclaiming, “I’ve never had it so good!” And only one familiar with physical principles such as the law of gravitation could prove to him that disaster lay ahead. Yet, some of us would believe, by reason of certain knowledge, that the man was not long for this world.
Some of us believe that the chant, “We’ve never had it so good,” is founded on a mistaken correlation. But more significantly, it overlooks moral realities which cannot be measured statistically. It is our conviction:
1. That the practice of dishonesty is evil and that retribution follows the doing of evil. Every evil act commits us to its retribution. The time lag between the committing of an evil act and our awareness that retribution is being visited upon us has nothing to do with the certainty of retribution; it has to do only with our own limited perception.
2. That there is no greater dishonesty than man effecting his own private gains at the expense of others. This is ego gone berserk; it is the coercive assertion of one’s supremacy as he defies and betrays his kind.
3. That statism is but socialized dishonesty; it is feathering the nests of some with feathers coercively plucked from others—on the grand scale. There is no moral—only a legal—distinction between petty thievery and political Robin Hoodism, which is to say, there is no moral difference between the act of a pickpocket and the progressive income tax or any other piece of socialization.
Thus, many of us profoundly believe that we cannot maintain the present degree of statism, let alone drift further toward the omnipotent state, without our great economy flying to pieces. Nevertheless, we find it difficult to do more than express our misgivings and alarm. Why, precisely why, does the present course presage disaster? What will be the nature of that disaster? Perhaps the following explanation may be worth pondering.
A Societal Problem
At the outset, imagine an impossible situation: a population composed of self-sufficient individuals, no exchange of any kind between them—not even conversation. Moral qualities, such as honesty among men and the practice of the Golden Rule, would never be brought into play. Each might be congenitally dishonest and unjust; but with no practice of the evils, what visible difference would it make?
Now, assume the development of specialization and exchange. The greater and more rapid the development, the more dependent would be each individual on all the others. Carried far enough, each person would be completely removed from self-sufficiency and utterly dependent on the free, uninhibited exchanges of the numerous specializations. In this situation, a total failure in exchange would result in everyone’s perishing.
Whenever we become economically dependent on each other—an inescapable consequence of a highly specialized production and exchange economy—we become equally dependent on the moral qualities of the participating individuals. No peaceful or free or willing exchange economy can exist among chronic liars and thieves; no such economy can long endure without a high degree of honesty. This is self-evident.
The degree of specialization in the U.S.A. today is without precedent in all history and, as a consequence, our dependence on each other is beyond the bounds of experience in this or any other country—ever! The question is, are we overly specialized and, thus, dangerously interdependent? I believe we are.
We are dangerously interdependent because so much of our specialization is unsound; it is not economic and natural but, instead, is governmentally forced and artificial. An economy founded on artificialities is in peril.
Economic specialization is the sturdy variety that blooms in the context of the peaceful, free, and unfettered market; it is the natural, technological outcropping of consumer requirements as reflected in voluntary, willing exchanges. Given these postulates, production, regardless of how specialized it is, generates its own purchasing power; balance is one of its built-in features.