The whole gospel of Karl Marx can be summed up in a single sentence: Hate the man who is better off than you are. Never under any circumstances admit that his success may be due to his own efforts, to the productive contribution he has made to the whole community. Always attribute his success to the exploitation, the cheating, the more or less open robbery of others. Never under any circumstances admit that your own failure may be owing to your own weakness, or that the failure of anyone else may be due to his own defects - his laziness, incompetence, improvidence, or stupidity.
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You cannot make a man worth a given amount by making it illegal for anyone to offer him anything less. You merely deprive him of the right to earn the amount that his abilities and situation would permit him to earn, while you deprive the community even of the moderate services that he is capable of rendering. In brief, for a low wage you substitute unemployment. You do harm all around, with no comparable compensation.
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Government relief tends constantly to get out of hand. And even when it is kept within reasonable bounds it tends to reduce the incentives to work and to save both of those who receive it and of those who are forced to pay it. It may be said, in fact, that practically every measure that governments take with the ostensible object of 'helping the poor' has the long-run effect of doing the opposite.
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All subsidy measures, all schemes to redistribute income or to force Peter to support Paul, are one-eyed as well as shortsighted. They get their immediate appeal by focusing attention on the alleged needs of some particular group of intended beneficiaries. But the inevitable victims - those who are going to be asked to pay for the new handout in increased taxes (which directly or indirectly means almost everybody else) - are left out of account. Only one-half of the problem has been seen. The cost of the proposed solution has been overlooked.
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This is perhaps as good a place as any to point out that what distinguishes many reformers from those who cannot accept their proposals is not their greater philanthropy, but their greater impatience. The question is not whether we wish to see everybody as well off as possible. Among men of good will such an aim can be taken for granted. The real question concerns the proper means of achieving it. And in trying to answer this we must never lose sight of a few elementary truisms. We cannot distribute more wealth than is created. We cannot in the long run pay labor as a whole more than it produces.
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There are men regarded today as brilliant economists, who deprecate saving and recommend squandering on a national scale as the way of economic salvation; and when anyone points to what the consequences of these policies will be in the long run, they reply flippantly, as might the prodigal son of a warning father: "In the long run we are all dead." And such shallow wisecracks pass as devastating epigrams and the ripest wisdom.
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For every dollar that is spent on the (boondoggle) bridge a dollar will be taken away from taxpayers. If the bridge costs $1, 000, 000 the taxpayers will lose $1, 000, 000. They will have that much taken away from them which they would otherwise have spent on the things they needed most.
Economics is haunted by more fallacies than any other study known to man. This is no accident. The inherent difficulties of the subject would be great enough in any case, but they are multiplied a thousandfold by a factor that is insignificant in, say, physics, mathematics or medicine - the special pleading of selfish interests.
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To think at all requires a purpose, no matter how vague. The best thinking, however, requires a definite purpose, and the more definite this purpose the more definite will be our thinking. Therefore in taking up any special line of thought, we must first find just what our end or purpose is, and thus get clearly in mind what our problems are.
There is a strange idea abroad, held by all monetary cranks, that credit is something a banker gives to a man. Credit, on the contrary, is something a man already has. He has it, perhaps, because he already has marketable assets of a greater cash value than the loan for which he is asking. Or he has it because his character and past record have earned it. He brings it into the bank with him. That is why the banker makes him the loan. The banker is not giving something for nothing.
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A man with a scant vocabulary will almost certainly be a weak thinker. The richer and more copious one's vocabulary and the greater one's awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one's thinking. Knowledge of things and knowledge of the words for them grow together. If you do not know the words, you can hardly know the thing.
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The dilemma is this. In the modern world knowledge has been growing so fast and so enormously, in almost every field, that the probabilities are immensely against anybody, no matter how innately clever, being able to make a contribution in any one field unless he devotes all his time to it for years. If he tries to be the Rounded Universal Man, like Leonardo da Vinci, or to take all knowledge for his province, like Francis Bacon, he is most likely to become a mere dilettante and dabbler. But if he becomes too specialized, he is apt to become narrow and lopsided, ignorant on every subject but his own, and perhaps dull and sterile even on that because he lacks perspective and vision and has missed the cross-fertilization of ideas that can come from knowing something of other subjects.
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Everything we get, outside of the free gifts of nature, must in some way be paid for. The world is full of so- called economists who in turn are full of schemes for getting something for nothing. They tell us that the government can spend and spend without taxing at all; that it can continue to pile up debt without ever paying it off, because "we owe it to ourselves.
The mounting burden of taxation not only undermines individual incentives to increased work and earnings, but in a score of ways discourages capital accumulation and distorts, unbalances, and shrinks production. Total real wealth and income is made smaller than it would otherwise be. On net balance there is more poverty rather than less.
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There may have been somewhere, as a few eighteenth-century philosophers dreamed, a group of peaceful men who got together one evening after work and drew up a Social Contract to form the state. But nobody has been able to find an actual record of it. Practically all the governments whose origins are historically established were the result of conquest-of one tribe by another, one city by another, one people by another. Of course there have been constitutional conventions, but they merely changed the working rules of governments already in being.
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The capitalist system has lifted mankind out of mass poverty. It is this system that in the last century, in the last generation, even in the last decade, has acceleratively been changing the face of the world, and has provided the masses of mankind with amenities that even kings did not possess or imagine a few generations ago.
There are millions receiving government payments who have come to consider them as an earned right, who of course find them inadequate, and who are outraged at the slightest suggestion of a critical re-examination of the subject. The political pressure for constant extension and increase of these benefits is almost irresistible.
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There are men regarded today as brilliant economists, who deprecate saving and recommend squandering on a national scale as the way of economic salvation; and when anyone points to what the consequences of these policies will be in the long run, they reply flippantly, as might the prodigal son of a warning father: 'In the long run we are all dead.' And such shallow wisecracks pass as devastating epigrams and the ripest wisdom.
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In practice [monetary management] is merely a high-sounding euphemism for continuous currency debasement. It consists of constant lying in order to support constant swindling. Instead of automatic currencies based on gold, people are forced to take managed currencies based on guile. Instead of precious metals they hold paper promises whose value falls with every bureaucratic whim. And they are suavely assured that only hopelessly antiquated minds dream of returning to truth and honesty and solvency and gold.
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The question is not whether we wish to see everybody as well off as possible. Among men of good will such an aim can be taken for granted. The real question concerns the proper means of achieving it. And in trying to answer this we must never lose sight of a few elementary truisms. We cannot distribute more wealth than is created. We cannot in the long run pay labor as a whole more than it produces.
The envious are not satisfied with equality; they secretly yearn for superiority and revenge. In the French Revolution of 1848, a woman coal-heaver is said to have remarked to a richly dressed lady: 'Yes, madam, everything's going to be equal now; I shall go in silks and you'll carry coal.'
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The bad economist sees only what immediately strikes the eye; the good economist also looks beyond. The bad economist sees only the direct consequences of a proposed course; the good economist looks also at the longer and indirect consequences. The bad economists sees only what the effect of a given policy has been or will be on one particular group; the good economist inquires also what the effect of the policy will be on all groups
There is a strange idea aboard, held by all monetary cranks, that credit is something a banker gives to a man. Credit, on the contrary, is something a man already has. He has it, perhaps, because he already has marketable assets of a greater cash value than the loan for which he is asking. Or he has it because his character and past record have earned it. He brings it into the bank with him. That is why the banker makes him the loan.
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The State, of course, is absolutely indispensable to the preservation of law and order, and the promotion of peace and social cooperation. What is unnecessary and evil, what abridges the liberty and threatens the true welfare of the individual, is the State that has usurped excessive powers and grown beyond its legitimate function - the super-State, the socialist State, the redistributive State, in brief, the ironically misnamed 'Welfare State.'
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Once the premise is accepted that poverty is never the fault of the poor but the fault of 'society,' or of 'the capitalist system, then there is no definable limit to be set on relief, and the politicians who want to be elected or reelected will compete with each other in proposing new 'welfare' programs to fill some hitherto 'unmet need.'
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The vital consideration of incentives is almost systematically overlooked in the proposals of agitators for more and bigger government welfare schemes. We should all be concerned about the plight of the poor and unfortunate. But the hard two-part question that any plan for relieving poverty must answer is: How can we mitigate the penalties of failure and misfortune without undermining the incentives to effort and success.
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No matter whether it is their intention or not, almost anything that the rich can legally do tends to help the poor. The spending of the rich gives employment to the poor. But the saving of the rich, and their investment of these savings in the means of production, gives just as much employment, and in addition makes that employment constantly more productive and more highly paid, while it also constantly increases and cheapens the production of necessities and amenities for the masses.
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In a free enterprise system, with an honest and stable money, there is dominantly a close link between effort and productivity, on the one hand, and economic reward on the other. Inflation severs this link. Reward comes to depend less and less on effort and production, and more and more on successful gambling and luck.
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Everything we get, outside of the free gifts of nature, must in some way be paid for. The world is full of so- called economists who in turn are full of schemes for getting something for nothing. They tell us that the government can spend and spend without taxing at all; that it can continue to pile up debt without ever paying it off, because "we owe it to ourselves."
When people who earn more than the average have their 'surplus', or the greater part of it, seized from them in taxes, and when people who earn less than average have the deficiency , or the greater part of it, turned over to them in hand-outs and doles, the production of all must sharply decline; for the energetic and able who lose their incentive to produce more than the average, and the slothful and unskilled lose their incentive to improve their condition.
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Government welfarism, with its ever-increasing army of pensioners and other beneficiaries, is fatally easy to launch and fatally easy to extend, but almost impossible to bring to a halt - and quite impossible politically to reverse, no matter how obvious and catastrophic its consequences become.
The quickest and surest way to production, prosperity, and economic growth is through private enterprise. The best way for governments to encourage private enterprise is to establish justice, to enforce contracts, to insure domestic peace and tranquility, to protect private property, and to secure the blessings of liberty including economic liberty - which means to stop putting obstacles in the way of private enterprise.
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Government provided free tuition tends more and more to produce a uniform conformist education, with college faculties ultimately dependent for their jobs on the government, and so developing an economic interest in profession and teaching a statist, pro-government, and socialist ideology.
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When your money is taken by a thief, you get nothing in return. When your money is taken through taxes to support needless bureaucrats, precisely the same situation exists. We are lucky, indeed, if the needless bureaucrats are mere easy-going loafers. They are more likely today to be energetic reformers busily discouraging and disrupting production.
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Precisely because the State has the monopoly of coercion it can be allowed the monopoly only of coercion. Only if the modern State can be held within a strictly limited agency of duties and powers can it be prevented from regimenting, conquering, and ultimately devouring the society which gave it birth.
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The more 'adequate' we make relief, the more people we are going to find willing to get on it and stay on it indefinitely. The more we try to make sure that everybody really in need of relief gets it, the more certain we can be that we are also giving it to people who neither need nor deserve it.
We are so accustomed to the miracle of private enterprise that we habitually take it for granted. But how does private industry solve the incredibly complex problem of turning out tens of thousands of different goods and services in the proportions in which they are wanted by the public? ... It solves these problems through the institutions of private property, competition, the free market, and the existence of money - through the interrelations of supply and demand, costs and prices, profits and losses.
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The most obvious and yet the oldest and most stubborn error on which the appeal of inflation rests is that of confusing 'money' with 'wealth'... Real wealth, of course, consists in what is produced and consumed: the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in. It is railways and roads and motor cars; ships and planes and factories; schools and churches and theaters; pianos, paintings and books. Yet so powerful is the verbal ambiguity that confuses money with wealth, that even those who at times recognize the confusion will slide back into it in the course of their reasoning.
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Government-to-government foreign aid promotes statism, centralized planning, socialism, dependence, pauperization, inefficiency, and waste. It prolongs the poverty it is designed to cure. Voluntary private investment in private enterprise, on the other hand, promotes capitalism, production, independence, and self-reliance.
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The consequences of inflation are malinvestment, waste, a wanton redistribution of wealth and income, the growth of speculation and gambling, immorality and corruption, disillusionment, social resentment, discontent, upheaval and riots, bankruptcy, increased government controls, and eventual collapse.
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It is often sadly remarked that the bad economists present their errors to the public better than the good economists present their truths. It is often complained that demagogues can be more plausible in putting forward economic nonsense from the platform than the honest men who try to show what is wrong with it.