Why does Socialism keep getting a hearing in the court of popular opinion? Why are people so damned desperate to keep trying what has been shown, over and over again, not to work? The totalitarian command and control economies of the tyrannies of the twentieth century have racked up a body count into the hundreds of millions, not counting those killed in the wars. You'd think people would begin to see that societies organized by forced collectivism are at best terribly foolish, Rube Goldberg pipe-dreams which do not work, and at worst, dangerous pathologies which spawn death and destruction, and yet they keep reaching for the solution of force, as if it were some kind of answer. The point which so many miss is that force creates nothing. It is a tool best used only for defense — it cannot convince nor change minds — but when one's only tool is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail. At best, force can effect a grudging change in behavior, and usually this is accompanied by a host of unintended consequences and resentments. It may be unavoidably useful for defense but it is no basis upon which to found our social transactions — and yet that is precisely the way in which command and control economies function. I fear that "the club" is the easy solution, which even the stupid and unimaginative may espouse, and appear thoughtful for "having made a contribution" to the discussion of the problem. This may explain its popularity. Democracy encourages every small wanna-be tyrant with delusions of statesmanship. Even self-professed libertarians are not immune.
When I checked my friend's list this morning, I found another instance of this negativistic phenomenon. In the libertarianism community, there was another post attempting to analyze "The Reasons Why Libertarianism Isn't Working". This discussion concerned the school system. It surprises me that in a forum supposedly populated by free–market libertarians there is so much uncritical acceptance of a coercive, redistributionist, government system. Reading the outrageous rationalizations for this system, I was reminded of an article I read about three years ago in the now–defunct libertarian online blog "The Houston Review." The article was proposing a solution to the political in–fighting coming to dominate the federal education system. In the article, Cynthia MacArthur theorized that the acrimony could be defused by making education only the province of local government again, instead of the one–size–fits–all federal system into which it has metastasized. She theorized that there were only about eight(!) different major educational philosophical systems in the U.S. and therefore there were only about 256 combinations of these philosophies under which a school system could be organized. Therefore, her solution was to get laws on the book that school control would be local, but that the system should fund a school organized according to any philosophy combination which managed to acquire for itself adherents totaling 5% or more of the population. Unbelievable. I was moved to write a rebuttal article, which was accepted and published. This is what I said:
Recently in the Houston Review, I read an article titled "Resolving Value Conflicts in the Schools" by Cynthia MacArthur. The problem with the article is its breathtaking underestimation of the power of free markets to deliver goods and services which answer human needs. This is why Socialism exists, because people like Ms. MacArthur pay lip service to liberty and freedom but really, deep down, have neither an understanding of it nor faith in it. They see the remarkable free market in operation all around them, its voluntary cooperation and trade mechanisms working to produce our incredible wealth and sustain our luxuriously diverse life styles, and yet like Moses who, doubting the very miracles in which he had participated, skeptically struck the rock with his staff a second time, they fail to put their trust in that which they have seen demonstrated time and again, and reach for the government club for solutions.
Many people with similar world–views merely preach freedom because they personally would like to have more for themselves, but don't think the world would work anymore if their neighbors had "too much" freedom. They see their neighbors reduced to irresponsible dependency by government and fear the license that freedom entails, never comprehending that freedom encourages cooperation, responsibility, ingenuity, integrity, and self–reliance. When told that the free market would be a better solution than government in handling some aspect of our society’s needs, they accept the idea in theory, but due to fact that government has handled the issue for so long without them having to think about it, they have a blind–spot and are unable to envision a world where the free choices of individuals and their voluntary cooperation work to efficiently produce the desired goods, provide the needed service, or solve the complex problem. Nevertheless, this is what happens when free people, acting in cooperation, through markets are allowed to proceed without interference.
As an example of what I am talking about, lets try a thought experiment where we suppose that the government has a monopoly on food production and distribution similar to the one it currently enjoys in education. Under this hypothetical system, instead of being educated in public schools, all citizens would eat at government cafeterias; they would consume a uniform gruel whose preparation, consistency, flavor, portion size, and delivery would be carefully dictated by government bureaucratic edicts, handed down by the Department of Nutrition. In the effort to be "efficient", because they are frequently accused, not without reason, of wasting resources, the policy wonks, scientists, lobbyists, and politicians decide that there should be only one recipe that best covers the nutritional requirements of the average man. Usually, a perverse, bland set of compromises is reached, which pleases nobody, and blatantly outrages a minimum number of persons party to the process. Naturally, food being so important to human life, it is a very contentious process to arrive at this recipe, and no single faction prevails for long. The food is produced on government-subsidized farms and carried to public cafeterias by government-subsidized freight haulers, and is prepared by public-service cooks. Hardly anybody has meals at home. Instead, they eat at government approved times, in government approved places, and consume meals whose portions and content are set by government edict.
In this imaginary land, there are no restaurants, no 24-hour, all-you-can-eat, self-serve buffets, take-out joints, pizza deliverers, coffee shops, free charity soup kitchens (other than government's), doughnut shops, fast food joints, no restaurants specializing in ethnic foods such as sushi, pasta, Peking duck, curry dishes, gyros, burritos, or kosher delicatessens, no sea-food shops, burgers and fries drive-thrus, ice-cream parlors, fine dining establishments, or pushcart vendors. These establishments may not be expressly forbidden, but they are almost non-existent, because with the government, as an enforced monopoly competitor offering lunch "for free," anyone who attempts to open such a private, competing establishment faces ferocious competition for the few customers willing to pay twice for their meal, the potential customers having been taxed for "nutrition" once, already. There are no famous chefs, no private chefs at all, nor any cooking schools, outside of one or two, teaching how to be a public-service cook in a government cafeteria, no cooking shows on TV, or cookbooks sold in bookstores (in their own entire section, no less). There would be no plethora of diets, catering to every whim, novel idea, or philosophy concerning health, cost, religious views, taste, ethnicity, aesthetics, convenience, or thousands of other criteria. There would be no grocery stores full of fresh or frozen foods, canned goods, spices, dairy, bakery, and farm goods sections, or junk food, no farmers markets selling fresh fruits and vegetables directly to the public, no health and organic food stores, no bakers, butchers, or confectioners. There would be no “urban farmers” with backyard or roof-top vegetable and herb gardens. Homes and apartments would not have pantries and kitchens at all, let alone kitchens in thousands of different layouts with multitudes of styles that complement the varried aesthetics, price-range, food preparation preferences, or cooking experience and desires that people might have — such as those offering ovens operating on gas, electric or microwave energy, and refrigerators and dishwashers. There would be no cappuccino and espresso makers, no grinders, measuring cups, deep friers, sifters, garlic presses, utensils, pots, pans, woks, steamers, pasta-machines, mixers, or food processors "capable of making thousands of Julianne fries in seconds." There would be neither "need" nor market for the backyard grill.
Now, also in this hypothetical land, maybe there are some specialized vendors that sell private "gruel alternatives" or "gruel seasoning" in maybe eight or nine different varieties or so, to season and supplement or even replace the official government lunches, but these options are only purchased by the ultra-dedicated or the wealthy, because the government deigns to allow these heavily regulated "competitors", but it is taxing everyone to pay for government gruel anyway, even those desiring to consume the gruel-alternate. Government then claims to give everyone a "uniformly healthy" diet "for free." It claims to feed everyone at the optimum level, from coal miners to receptionists, from diabetics with food allergies to Olympic athletes, and to have the goal of having the best "nutrition system" in the world, and to that end it controls as much of a citizen’s nourishment needs, and certainly, as much of their supply, as it can. Consequently, this regimen of paralyzing regulation, economic restrictions, and subsidized monopoly has resulted in a very limited market for the alternate gruel and the gruel seasonings. As a result, these options are terribly expensive, very limited, and not very convenient — and yet people still buy them. Most people still see them as the only limited, expensive alternatives that the market can supply. In other words, they see only what the market has been allowed to produce, and have very little inkling of what it has been inhibited from producing, what it might produce, if people were free to attempt to satisfy their myriad demands for "nutrition" in voluntary ways, through trade.
Now, into this impoverished, food-monopolized world, come "libertarian-minded" people very much like Ms. Mac Arthur, two or three entire generations removed from the time when a private market actually operated freely in this arena, who notice that there are eight or nine different recipies over which various factions among the public are fighting bitterly, each so that they can get their own particular favorite item added to the "official gruel recipe," which the entire public is given to consume. Sometimes, one faction or another will win in the political arena and at least that faction will be happy with the results, or at least be somewhat mollified, while their frustrated neighbors complain and plot their next political strategy to regain control of the system. Nevertheless, more often than not, incompatible preferences are accommodated, or the least common denominator is accommodated, which means that the gruel is either a mish-mash of competing, incompatible, recipe philosophies, which can barely be stomached, or else a bland thin broth, which is neither tasty nor particularly nourishing. Nevertheless, everyone, no matter how bitterly they battle over this ridiculous "nutrition system" still thinks that it is the only sensible choice for satisfying everyone's need to eat. They just think their own one-size-fits-all solution is THE right way to implement the coercive, choice-destroying system.
Using their keen observation and imagination, and elementary statistical calculation, our libertarian reformers tell their readers that with eight primary differences of opinion on the subject, there are an "incredible" 256 possible combinations of these gruel recipe alternatives. They mention, almost in passing, that some of the populace would favor a free market in food production, preparation, and distribution, but hastily conclude that with a "mind-boggling" 256 possible alternative combinations available, the market could never possibly perfectly satisfy everyone in the fulfillment of such an important need, especially in the smaller communities, and besides, some people might choose "unhealthy" diets for themselves or their children out of ignorance, or worse, allow them to be malnourished out of indifference, or not being able to afford any of the expensive free-market possibilities. After all they reason, look at the scarcity of private eating establishments, how very few there are, how expensive they are. Surely the public is too ignorant to understand the necessity of eating properly! Surely the poor couldn't afford to eat and would starve if the public system was abandoned! Therefore, these thinkers decide that the best solution available is to scrap the federal Socialist-model system and replace it with a multitude of relatively smaller, local, less-socialist systems. These local programs would, in the interest of harmony, accommodate any preference whose adherents numbered at least five percent of the local population. Surely, that would cover any reasonable nutrition that might exist in the community. Needless to say, any value judgments made concerning the seasonings to be added would be a casualty of this “too-many-cooks-at-the-same-stewpot” process.
Of course, this is an absurd and impossible situation, just ask the former Soviet Union, which created a famine in the 1930's, in the fertile Ukraine region, trying to monopolize the production and distribution of food, but then again, our understanding in this particular aspect of human need is relatively more enlightened only because, when it comes to our food needs, we’ve already grown obliviously accustomed to the better system — the free market. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the education system, and Ms. MacArthur’s solution, which eschews the free market, is not a step in the right direction. Why should we settle for feeding our children an unvaryingly stifling bowl of gruel spoiled by a conflicting mélange of spices in an effort to make everyone swallow what everyone else wants them to have? Government is, in its entire extent, defined by a boundary demarking the places where human imagination has failed, and people have reached for the hammer of coercion. We can do better than this. Our children deserve better than this ridiculous food fight.