Mises Wire

“Free Stuff” Isn’t All That It’s Cracked Up to Be

To my British and American friends who must deal with the socialist nonsense of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, I found this poem. It was written by Rudyard Kipling, the writer most hated by English Socialists in the 40s and an opponent to the interventionist policies implemented by the Labour Party after the second world war:

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,

By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;

But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “iƒ you don’t ‘work you die.

This poem is not an exaggeration. At the time, it was decreed by the Control of Engagement Order that “no man between the ages of 18 and 50, or woman between the ages of 18 and 40, can change occupations at will. The Minister of Labor has the power to direct such workers to the employment he considers best for the national interest.” This Order was abolished only in March 1950.

At the time, the consequences of “democratic socialism” were disastrous: no food, no housing, no clothing, no fuel. By 1948, rations had fallen well below the wartime average. At the same date, one could read in The New Statesman, which was by no means a virulent opponent of Planning: “You may have social security, but you cannot go into a store and buy two quarts of milk.” To which an English commentator replied: “You not only cannot buy two quarts of milk. You cannot buy one. You can only get two quarts of milk on your doorstep a week. If you try to get more you are apt to land in jail.”

Planned chaos was the logical outcome of the foolish socialist policies implemented by the British government. John T. Flynn, the great libertarian journalist, in his book The Road Ahead (1949) noticed the devastating effects of government intervention in housing. He wrote:

The bombs and guided missiles that destroyed 300,000 British dwellings in World War II were not the worst enemies of British home ownership. That honor is reserved for the persons who advocated laws for “low-cost public housing” and for “cooperation” between government and private enterprise in housing for low income groups.

Great Britain is spending as large a proportion of its income on housing as it did before the war, but it is getting barely half the number of homes. During 4 years after World War II, only 367,761 permanent houses were built, compared with a total of 2,500,000 in the 8 years before the war, of which 1,888,000 were built by private enterprise. Owing to the greater need for housing, and 300,000 dwellings having been made uninhabitable by the war, various types of housing and control acts were passed. But, inevitably, the more control, the less housing.

In January, 1947, a great plan for affordable/free housing was announced by the government. It was supposed to furnish 250,000 houses in the year. The government went on with the plans and mobilized all sorts of resources: plaster, cement, plumbing, nails, brick and other materials necessary were ordered and produced. But after some time, it was discovered that lumber could not be supplied for more than 60,000 houses. The great plan failed miserably, falling short by 190,000 houses. In the meantime, all the other materials were being furiously produced and it was also discovered that there was not enough labor to produce them. Bricks, plaster, and other things produced were pilling up, wasted for lack of buyers. The plan was a pathetic fiasco. Whether it is Sanders or Coryn, the policies they support will fail for the same reason socialism failed in the post-WWII United Kingdom. One does not have to think much to understand the parallel between the “affordable housing” policies of the English Labour Party and the request for “free” education or health care. It will fail because governments cannot operate rational allocation of resources, because markets are necessary to the good functioning of an economy.

In fact, “democratic socialism” was such a failure in post-WWII England that a long-time member of the Labour Party, Alfred Edwards, had to admit:

I have spent years discoursing on the defects of the Capitalist system. I do not withdraw those criticisms. But we have seen the two systems side by side. And the man who would still argue for socialism as the means of ridding our society of the defects of capitalism is blind indeed. Socialism just does not work.

Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn may like post-WWII England and its so-called “social policies.” The truth however is that no one really wants to go back to a time were government was running every aspect of your life, to a time were shortages, rather than prosperity, was the rule.

Image Source: Meg Nicol https://www.flickr.com/photos/meg_nicol/
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
What is the Mises Institute?

The Mises Institute is a non-profit organization that exists to promote teaching and research in the Austrian School of economics, individual freedom, honest history, and international peace, in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard. 

Non-political, non-partisan, and non-PC, we advocate a radical shift in the intellectual climate, away from statism and toward a private property order. We believe that our foundational ideas are of permanent value, and oppose all efforts at compromise, sellout, and amalgamation of these ideas with fashionable political, cultural, and social doctrines inimical to their spirit.

Become a Member
Mises Institute