Mises Daily Articles
Voters Hate Socialism Except When They Love It
[An MP3 audio file of this article, read by Floy Lilley, is available for download.]
I gave a talk over breakfast to a bunch of entrepreneurs who come from my town. Smart, hard working, and quite conscious of the effects of local taxes on their local well-being, they are largely supportive of giant federal programs that will "create jobs," or whatever. (Hey, it comes from far away, from someone else's pockets; we're downtrodden, etc.)
I started the talk with, "Happy New Year," and they responded in kind. Then I asked, "So, who here is 'happy'?" I had no takers.
I've always been perplexed by the dichotomy that often divides people's avowed beliefs and their actions. It may be hard to accept the moral and economic evils of socialism, in the abstract, but it's also hard to vote against it. It turns out to be fairly easy, however (if potentially dangerous), to give an example of its insidiousness.
Asked whether they believed that socialism was the best track to prosperity, all said no. Asked whether they supported socialism or capitalism, the latter got the universal nod.
I followed those introductory comments with a brief spiel on a book I wrote years ago. I brought out a copy, briefly paged through it, and mentioned its content and supposed value. I also said that, if the group wanted this book to go to one of the audience members, they could vote for me to make it so.
The vote was unanimous; no one was so "selfish" that he or she would vote against someone's receiving a book — even if the odds were against any particular individual's getting the book. Heck, "something for nothing" was in play!
So I gave the book to the nearest audience member, and then I said, "Well, you voted for me to give this book to 'George,' but that book had a cost. We never discussed what cost was attached to your votes. I just spaced that. Anyway, it's only fair to have that cost borne by all: I'd like you each to pass a dollar up here to the podium — unless, of course, 'George' wants to give it back to me."
"George" played along (or perhaps he really wanted the book). He laughed and told his colleagues to fork over the money.
The audience's mood was growing dark, and I didn't want to cause trouble, so I then reached into my bag and gave a book to everyone.
The lesson cost me a dozen books, but I figured I had made a point about liberty, about democracy, and ultimately about limited government.
Just because the majority wants something does not mean that the greater good is really served; just because the majority wants something doesn't mean that anyone has the right to expropriate it from the owner; and just because the majority wants something doesn't mean that the process itself is "sustainable" — the new catchword used to limit all innovation and progress.
So, with the darkness created and then dispelled, I made several points about how "majority rule" can lead to the total collapse of a society: allocation of expropriated property or labor leads to resistance and output reduction on the part of those who are being plundered. But when supplies are reduced and demand remains constant (or increases), discontent arises among the voters, who are taught to believe that their mere votes somehow create goods and services.
Those in power eventually fear losing their positions, so they are forced to allocate resources — in other words, to ration them. These actions by themselves are rarely popular, so the rationing must be seen as necessary, in light of some recently discovered or manufactured "crisis." (Crises met, managed, or merely old are no longer useful for political purposes.)
After rationing fails to meet the needs, the remaining productive class must be inspired to produce ever more, with ever-less reward. Eventually, the producers must be forced to produce: we have shortages, stagnation of innovation, and, ultimately, slavery — destitution.
They got it. They left with their books and long faces. I was not invited back. It wasn't out of any personal feeling; it was just that no one wanted to hear the message that voting by itself produces nothing, and that force by itself wastes resources and "produces" less and less.