Monday, February 04, 2008

The Scam of Shared Prosperity

Tibor R. Machan

When I was about 12 years old, I was taking a class in my Hungarian elementary school on Marxist economics. One day we were being told about Marx’s famous goal for the communist paradise he envisioned for us all: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

As most kids back in Budapest, I didn’t pay much attention to these lessons since they were nothing but pure propaganda for the ruling communists who ran the country. But I did happen to be listening to this particular presentation and once the “teacher” was done, I didn’t have the good sense to resist raising my hand to ask a question: “What if my pal here next to me and I both start the week with a fixed amount of money but he purchases some wood and builds a nice table while I buy some wine and drink myself under a table? Will he have to share with me whatever he can earn when he sells his product?”

As I recall, I was severely rebuked for my counterrevolutionary remark and shortly thereafter I was sent to a technical school where one would prepare for physical labor, not for entering a gymnasium where education is more theoretical, abstract. I was deemed too reactionary and a serious risk for infecting the intelligentsia with heresies. In time I managed to escape from the communist hellhole, of course, and land in America where I have been told freedom reigns and people’s property is not confiscated to be involuntarily and indiscriminately distributed among all.

Alas, this morning I was reminded once again that my hope of coming to a genuinely free country turned out to be more of a dream than a real prospect. One of the most prominent presidential hopefuls has penned an article for The Wall Street Journal, titled, “My Plan for Shared Prosperity.” Its author, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, makes no secret of her plan for massive wealth redistribution should she get the chance to implement her ideas. As she puts it, “My measure of economic success will never be a single, dry statistic. Rather, success means an economy that allows those at the bottom to work their way into the middle class, without pushing anyone out. It means leaving people better off when I finish than when I start. In short, success means an economy that shares its prosperity with all.”

Now a genuinely free economy “allows” those at the bottom to attempt to work their way up, to become economically better off, although there is no guarantee that this will happen. That’s because whether one’s work gains one wealth depends on whether enough people want to pay for it. In a free country no one has the authority to force others to purchase one’s wares or services. It is all done by means of voluntary exchange. And the result can well be unequal wealth across the society. And there is also the problem that some folks simply don’t want to do the work to gain much wealth.

Yet, when one compares the economic history of largely free market societies with those planned by bureaucrats and politicians, one finds, in the main, that there is far more prosperity and even equality in the former than the latter. More importantly, the opportunity to seek economic improvement is not squashed by rigid state planning or fixed socio-economic classification. No. Instead, as one can expect from the condition of freedom in all areas of life, there is a great deal of variety and volatility and mobility. The bottom line is that a free country will probably not be one with “an economy that shares its prosperity with all.”

Of course, Mrs. Clinton isn’t much interested in freedom, only in regimentation for the country to meet her standards of economic success. This is revealed in how she talks of “an economy that shares its prosperity.” She doesn’t appear to grasp that it is not economies that are prosperous, nor engage in sharing anything with anyone. That is what people are and do. And for Mrs. Clinton to get her way, she will have to order the level of prosperity that people will be allowed to attain and force people to share their resources with others, like it or not.

I suppose the idea of a free society is a hard sell, when too many folks like to live off the work of their fellows. But it would perhaps be of some value if our politicians, like Mrs. Clinton, read Orwell’s little fable, Animal Farm, and learned what happens when a country places forced equality ahead of liberty for its citizenry.

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