Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on February 25, 2020

in Hubris and humility, Inequality, Philosophy of Freedom

… is from page 165 of Tom Bethell’s excellent 1998 book, The Noblest Triumph:

We should also bear in mind that there is no inequality so great as that between command givers and receivers.

DBx: This point is vital. Jeff Bezos has in his financial portfolio many more meaningful zeros to the left of the decimal point than I have in my portfolio. A multitude more. But Jeff Bezos, as a private person – regardless of his financial fortune – can exercise over me or anyone else no power. He cannot tell me what to do. He cannot violate my rights. He cannot take my stuff. He cannot compel me to use his services. He cannot tax me. If he wants my dime, he must offer to do for me something that I find so worthwhile that I voluntarily pay to him my dime. If he fails to offer me any such thing, I keep my dime.

Not so with government officials. By majority vote in the United States, they can take my dime – and my dollars – largely at will. (The Constitution is no longer much of a constraint on such activities.) And far from having, unlike Bezos, to get my approval, all these politicians must do is to get the support of a coalition of some of my fellow citizens – support that these politicians buy with promises to share with the coalition a portion of the dimes and dollars that are taken from me.

From angry old socialist Bernie Sanders on the left to earnest young conservative Oren Cass on the right, America today swarms with people lusting for state power to be amassed and deployed to bring about the paradise that each imagines can be realized if enough ‘right’ people are given enough power to command. Of course, the all-important details of each of these coercion-constructed paradises differ from the details of each of the many other fancied paradises – thus promising destructive conflict down the road.

But what is shared by each of the architects of these coercion-constructed paradises is the conceit that he or she, well-meaning genius that he or she is, has uniquely glimpsed a bright future, knows best how to scheme to bring this future about, and can be trusted – cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die – to use the required coercion selflessly, wisely, and in ways that will – contrary to all historical experience – have no unintended ill-consequence.

This conceit, of course, is fatal. And it is no less lethal when oozing from self-described conservatives and “economic nationalists” than when gushing from proud “Progressives” and socialists.

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