Economic Myths #14 – Share the Wealth
By Duncan Whitmore
Clement Attlee is, with little doubt, one of the more notable of Britain’s former Prime Ministers. Apart from the long lasting effects of his legacy he was, in 2004, voted the “Greatest British Prime Minister of the Twentieth Century” in a poll of 139 academics.
Needless to say, with such a high ranking in academic circles, almost every “accomplishment” of the post-war government that he led (with the possible exception of decolonisation) is likely to be an anathema to libertarians. Not only did he nationalise key industries such as the railways, canals, road haulage, coal mining, gas, electricity, telephones and steel manufacturing, he practically created the “cradle-to-grave” welfare state, the jewel in the crown of which was the now untouchable sacred cow, the National Health Service. Furthermore, he successfully entrenched the “Keynesian consensus” – the idea that full employment would be maintained by Keynesian fiscal policy – that was to unite all parties of any stripe for the three decades ending with the election of Margaret Thatcher’s government.
With such profound and fundamental changes to British society, many of which are still felt today, it is important to have an insight into Attlee’s motivations towards the legislation that his government passed. Continue reading
It is often trumpeted as a virtue that “civilised”, social democratic countries offer their citizens one or more types of “social safety net” in an attempt to eliminate the most dire effects of, say, unemployment, illness or some other kind of incapacity that could inflict a condition of extreme poverty upon the individual members of the citizenry. The idea is that the most basic wants will always be guaranteed by the state should one be unable to provide them for oneself and no one need have any fear of hunger or lack of shelter – situations that are said to be “intolerable” in a modern, twenty-first century society.
The first problem with this theory is that poverty is not some selectively appearing disease that makes a magical appearance every now and then to infect an otherwise healthy and wealthy society. Rather, poverty is the natural state in which human beings first found themselves. When Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden they saw that the world was a barren and harsh place that is capable of providing precious little – may be just air to breathe – without the conscious effort of its inhabitants. The only way to alleviate this terrible situation is for humans to work to produce the goods that they need and, eventually, to bring about capital investment in order to expand the amount of consumer goods that can be enjoyed – whether it’s cheap food, housing, education, holidays or whatever – a process that only really got underway in any significant form in the 1800s. Continue reading
Capitalism and Equality
By Duncan Whitmore
In several recent posts and a podcast on this blog1, Rev. Rory McClure has provided some robust and insightful assaults on the leftist quest for equality. For too long it has been widely believed in mainstream circles that equality between human beings, in one form or another, is some kind of virtue to which society ought to aspire and that rank inequality is a measure of severe injustice that needs to be corrected by state action. Even though the worst excesses of inequality – such as the rising value of assets owned by the rich as a result of worldwide money printing – are, in fact, products of a state corporatist system, the perception that some people will be wealthier than others in a free market continues to provide an almost instinctive impetus towards some kind of socialism and re-distributionism. Rev. McClure has performed an important service by not only demolishing the view that inequality is a handicap for lovers of liberty but, above and beyond that, by demonstrating how inequality is, in fact, something to be embraced and cherished.
To add to Rev. McClure’s important arguments this essay will first subject the aspiration towards some kind of perfect or immediate equality – i.e. the forced attempt to render all people absolutely equal now with today’s stock of wealth and resources – to a specifically praxeological critique. However, we will also demonstrate that even if someone desires a more approximate or gradual achievement of equality – such as the so-called “equality of opportunity” – it is, in fact, statism, socialism and any kind of redistributionism that should be abandoned while, instead, those who seek to create such equality should embrace a social order that maximises the production of wealth. That social order is, of course, free market capitalism. Thus it will be shown that, even on their own terms, advocates for greater equality should be free marketers. Continue reading