Friday, December 19, 2008


People who breezily espouse one government fix after another often forget that there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. One that's given to another has to be paid for by someone. Governments, despite their recent behavior suggesting otherwise (and happy commentators cheering them on), can not produce free money by waving a magic wand.

A Times column by Jamie Whyte makes the point well.
Learning that cost-free transfers are impossible is an important part of growing up, and parents usually make sure it happens quickly. Most of us learn that there is no such thing as a free lunch long before we have ever picked up a bill.

Except when it comes to public policy. Encouraged by politicians, many adults indulge the infantile fantasy that the Government can bestow gifts on us while imposing costs on no one.
There are those, of course, on different points of the political compass who already realize this. Some take positive glee in imposing those costs on others. Progressives argue that 'the rich' deserve to have their money taken because in their view they obtained it illegitimately. They find satisfaction when Peter is robbed taxed to pay Paul... and Juan, and Shavelle, and...

Most people still retain a vestige of justice and see there's something wrong in this. Regrettably, many of those still think that it's pragmatically necessary. As a painter I recently hired, an Obama supporter, put it: "Someone's gotta pay for all this mess!"

Indeed, someone will. He will. Though he intended it to be someone else, he'll pay for it in the form of higher prices, a weaker dollar, higher unemployment, lower productivity, and years of economic and social malaise. He'll also pay for it, as will we all, in the form of a more morally degraded society. It's increasingly accepted that it's not wrong to rob 'the rich' (while 'rich' continues to be defined ever downward), so long as the money goes to 'the right people' or for the right cause.

In feudal times, aristocrats believed (with many serfs agreeing) they had a divine right to tax and enslave those over whom they had power. Now, the roles have flipped with the serfs (and quite a few 'aristocrats') believing it's okay to tax the Lords in compensation for a generation of looting and pillaging.

Except there are no aristocrats and serfs here today. There are only those who produce and those who take from the producers, while making it ever harder for anyone to make anything. Not only is there no such thing as a free cracker, once the one Peter made has been consumed — and he's unable to make another — everyone will begin to starve.

Of course, the present view wasn't always dominant and it doesn't have to be now. But to overcome it will require more than believing there's no such thing as a free meal. It will require an unbending re-commitment to the idea that what's mine is mine and what's yours is yours, no matter what crisis may be around at any given moment.

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