Free Is A Delusion   2 comments

I read an article recently in which the writer asserted we could have “free” stuff because a country of 340 million people can afford it. She further asserted that it was ridiculous and self-serving to think otherwise.

Courtesy of Washington State Highway Patrol

Sigh! This shows a profound lack of economic understanding.

In the physical world, there will always be scarcity. Capitalism has done a really good job of reducing scarcity around the world because it innovates more efficient use of resources and devises new ways to distribute it, as well as offering wanted items at lower prices through economies of scale, but it continues to struggle against the headwind of centralized government planning that insists that a board of bureaucrats can eliminate the resource scarcity simply by declaring it “free”.

Human wants are limitless. Resources are scarce.

Yes, we could have “free” almost everything. Except “free” doesn’t exist. There’s a cost to everything. If you don’t realize that, you haven’t thought seriously about the world around you. Look about and ask yourself “What is the cost of that?” Sunshine? To have sunshine requires blue skies which isn’t really available in countries like China. Sunshine, therefore, is not free because, among other things, air scrubbers on factory smokestacks cost money. Water isn’t free because it must be pumped to your location and filtered to remove contaminants. My daughter once informed me that the aurora borealis is free and I agree with her. I tried that same experiment with my son and he pointed out that the solar storms that cause the aurora borealis fry electronics that aren’t properly shielded, therefore there is a cost to the aurora borealis. Literally, just look around and consider what something costs.

College could be “free” if only the professors and staff were willing to work without pay, but then it wouldn’t be “free” because they’d be bearing the costs that the students rightfully should pay. Professors and staff are performing a service and ought to be paid by those who value that service.

We could have “free” medical care if only doctors, nurses, etc. didn’t expect to be paid. They do actually need to be paid because, like the professors, they need to eat and have roofs over their heads. We could argue whether doctors and nurses should get paid so much for the valuable service they provide, but rather than you and I arguing, why don’t we get the government and the government-created insurance companies out of the way so the patient and the medical providers can negotiate face to face? It would solve a whole host of problems that “free” created in the first place. Patients would come to realize that the true cost of their medical care is at least 80% higher than they currently pay and medical providers would learn that their patients can’t afford them. If they want to keep a roof over their heads, they might need to lower their rates once there’s no insurance industry to play “Hide the Facts” on their behalf. And patients, freed from $1000 a month premiums would go to their providers and say “I can afford this much, but not this much — let’s make a deal.” The quality of medical care would not be reduced and might even improve because providers would not want to lose patients to someone who is doing it better for the same or lower price. Yes, competition improves quality and lowers price in any market where the government isn’t intervening, even the medical profession.

No amount of wishing will make that truck safe.

There is no such thing as a free lunch (or dinner or breakfast) and when offering all this “free” stuff, the propagandists neglect to admit that it means you’re going to have to live on a whole lot less of your income. Yeah, yeah, yeah — we’ll mine the rich — until they move to a country that doesn’t while they can still afford to do it. Don’t believe that? Look at the outmigration rate from Massachusetts (which requires universal insurance coverage) to states that don’t require that (like Texas). If “free” is so great, why are people opting to live where “free” isn’t available?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ll run deficits because “deficits don’t matter” … until the economy collapses under the weight of them and we’re all living in a Greater Depression. That’s a pretty high cost and if you study classical economics you learn such collapses often come from deficit spending.

Yeah, yeah, yeah — we’ll make the middle class pay their “fair share” and — on and on and on until there’s nothing left of what was until the 1970s the most vibrant nation in the world. You see, we’ve been collectivizing for about 100 years — it really picked up speed with the New Deal and the Great Society. And with every new buy of “nice things,” we’ve seen our economy shed vitality. By the 1970s, the economy started sending signals that “free” (government-provided) is hurting us. Some of us noticed it and argued for a return to what made our economy vital in the first place — the relatively free market of the 19th century when the US government wasn’t large enough to interfere. While some of our politicians pay lip-service to that, they continue to grow government and its cost and now we have an election that has been all about the “free” stuff.

The economy is running out of steam and it’s not going to get better until we get a load of bricks off its drive train. Not even “free” jobs will take care of that because there is a cost of offering people jobs and the government has to take that from us — you and me, the taxpayers. It’s never enough because the government strips the vitality out of the economic activity and teaches us that we shouldn’t strive to make a better widget. We should instead strive to make a government auditor happy by making the same widget we made last year.

The last thing we need is more “free stuff”. In fact, what we really need is a major purge of all propagandist nonsense. No country in the world can afford “free” because free doesn’t exist. Yes, we should take care of those who legitimately cannot take care of themselves, but when 50% of the adult working population is on some form of “free” (government benefits) and the other 50% are paying the bill for what isn’t “free” something is wrong and it’s time to dump the apple cart, toss out what hasn’t worked and return to what did. History can teach us a lot if we’ll only study it.


Lela Markham is an Alaska-based novelist and blogger interested in a wide variety of subjects, often from a libertarian perspective.

Posted February 13, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in economics, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Free Is A Delusion

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  1. A really excellent post, Lela. I share your views. An additional point is that “free” often ends up being abused and disrespected by people who think it has no value because it is free. I see this particularly in education where many people don’t value what is provided. Nothing is free, everything must be paid for and there are limits to revenue that is available to pay for free services and products.

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