Friday, August 2, 2019

That Which Is Not Free

     "There is an old song which asserts that 'the best things in life are free.' Not true! Utterly false! This was the tragic fallacy which brought on the decadence and collapse of the democracies of the twentieth century; those noble experiments failed because the people had been led to believe that they could simply vote for whatever they wanted... and get it, without toil, without sweat, without tears.
     "Nothing of value is free. Even the breath of life is purchased at birth only through gasping effort and pain."

     [Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers]

     The above quote, one of the most significant statements of Heinlein’s personal convictions from one of his most influential novels, contains both a great truth and a misleading implication. That’s not a criticism of the conviction, mind you; the old boy sometimes stumbled on his way to his destination, as do we all...but he almost always arrived where he intended, whereas many of us do not.

     I’m going to leave that there for a bit, and turn to another focus. This one comes our way via Mark “Mad Dog” Sherman. It’s a look behind the Left’s “free stuff” curtain:

     Democrats see your paycheck as fair game for their endless social-improvement projects. Every Democrat vying for the White House backs federal legislation that would guarantee workers nearly three months of paid family medical leave every year.

     Sounds wonderful. We all favor caring for newborns and sick relatives. And working nine months while getting paid for 12 will appeal to many voters. The issue is who foots the bill for paid leave. These pols want to force you to pay with a hefty federal payroll tax.

     Please read the whole thing. Yes, the article is a year old. Even so, as an illustration of Heinlein’s central truth – “Nothing of value is free” – it’s a gem.

     If Smith gets paid for work he isn’t doing, who’s providing the pay? Who’s producing the goods and / or services that make it possible for Smith’s employer to pay him for doing nothing? It won’t be the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnibenevolent State. Someone has to pick up the tab.

     Yet there is a freebie in the scenario. It’s just one the proponents of “free stuff from the government” don’t want you to see. And it’s very, very valuable – to them.

     Take a moment over it. The effort is worthwhile; I promise you that.

     To return to the Heinlein quote, the misleading implication is contained in the very same, beautifully concise phrase that expresses his central truth:

“Nothing of value is free.”

     That depends on who gets what’s been purchased. If Smith pays but Jones gets the product while Smith goes uncompensated, the product is free to Jones. Taken one step further, the price Smith pays – either his labor or remuneration he acquired at some point as compensation for his labor – is free to Jones. Causing such divisions of labor from valued reward, with the reward being diverted to someone other than the laborer, is the central motivation of all political action. Politics exists for that reason alone!

     Franz Oppenheimer noted this truth in The State, his magnum opus on the emergence of governments. We can see it in operation in every activity of governments, all of which are paid for by Us the People through taxation, conscription, or a combination thereof.

     But the naive and the witless – a demographic that looms uncomfortably large in today’s America – swallow Democrats’ promises of “free stuff” uncritically, as if there were a fairy godmother who provides the federal government with good stuff to give us cost-free. That says more about the failure of American education than anything else that comes to mind at this admittedly early hour.

     In one of my early short stories, there’s an illustrative exchange between a recently dead semi-layabout and the Great Whatever. The semi-layabout, Richard Schiffers, at one point in his middle years receives a mysterious credit-card-like item that bears only his name and the legend “20% Discount.” Though mystified by its provenance or the nature of the “account,” he joyfully puts to use. He’s never had any idea where the Card came from, or who stood behind it...but now that his life has ended, he seeks to know:

     Schiffers’s foretaste of the solitude to follow would have unhinged a living man. He feared with all his soul the approaching moment when the Presence would remove itself, but there was only one more question he could frame: the one he had actively suppressed for nearly fifteen years.
     - Tell me of the Card.
     It was tailored to your configuration of desires, strengths, weaknesses and insights. Presented with such an opportunity, a creature like yourself will either come to an understanding of the temptation, or surrender to the fulfillments available. Every intelligence that lives, that has ever lived, and that ever will live must face such a test.
     - How did I fail?
     In three ways: You never grasped the essence of your own nature, the things that are human. You failed to think enough about the basic features of your world to understand their functions. You failed to consider the implications of the existence of the Card, while you used it unceasingly.
     Schiffers could only feel incomprehension.
     - But what were these essences, these implications? You speak as if they ought to have been crystal clear, but during my life nothing was ever perfectly clear.
     Nonsense. Was it not clear that all things have a cost? Did you not know that the ultimate cost of all things is labor, physical or mental? Could you not have deduced that to demand a discount from others as a matter of right is to assert ownership of their labor, making them your slaves? Could you not have deduced that in a world with unbreakable natural laws, such as yours, you would never have been permitted a privilege such as the Card without being required to pay?
     - But how did I pay?
     With your own life. Each use of the Card caused a portion to be deducted from your lifespan.

     What Schiffers received at a discount had to come from somewhere: specifically, the uncompensated labor of others. It only appeared “free” to him because the identities of those uncompensated others were hidden from him. And so it is with governments.

     In the midst of his agonies and losses, Job cries out that “the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” And it is so. But the State giveth not; it only taketh away. It may redistribute part of what it takes – never the whole of it – but it cannot honestly claim to be the true source of the benefits it showers on it chosen beneficiaries.

     Your tax dollars and conscripted, uncompensated labor are free to those at the levers of State power. They who seek to get their hands on those levers, and who promise you “free stuff” in any form as an inducement to vote for them, are vying for a position once prominent on slaveholding plantations, one far too many young Americans have never been taught about: The Overseer.

     The Overseer was the whipholder who watched over the Slaves. He ensured that they attended to their uncompensated labors in the interest of their Master. He was generously paid for that “service,” out of the proceeds of the Slaves’ labors. It was a much-prized post in the antebellum years. In its new guise, it’s prized even more highly today. That the Master is a multitude of “beneficiaries,” and that the Slaves are effectively all of us, makes no essential difference.

     “Nothing of value is free”...except to our Overseers: they who control the State. Remember that as Campaign 2020 progresses.



Borrowing from this for an essay of mine that's slowly ripening (and, of course, credit / link given).

Paul Bonneau said...

"Democrats see your paycheck as fair game for their endless social-improvement projects."

What, *only* the Democrats?

I'll be impressed with that argument when I see Republicans not using the government schools, not using Socialist Security and Medicare, not indulging in lobbying and rent-seeking behavior to prop up their businesses, not taking subsidies for their farms and ranches. The Republican theme: "It's not socialism when we do it."

I used to live in Wyoming, one of the most R states in the nation. The legislators still spent like drunken sailors, the money they looted from the people. Want "free" college? The University of Wyoming has got it for ya.



I don't use public schools; 1/3 of my take-home pay goes to private school. But I still get taxes for public schools.

Many years ago I wrote to my Congresscritter, whose office received so many calls and letters from me they knew my voice. I wanted to forever waive any Social Security monies if I could just keep and invest what they took (plus what my employer paid). He laughed and said "I wish!"

But you are correct. The days of Davy Crocket, or Hamilton (?) or Grover Cleveland saying that the Constitution has no clause permitting the appropriation of public charity are well, well, well past us. Whether directly from the public treasury, or filtered through pork projects, we've learned we can vote ourselves payouts from the public purse.