I know it's a little late to be suggesting this since Obamacare is already law. But what we should have done before screwing up one-sixth of the US economy is run an experiment: Let the government set up an agency to manage the design, manufacture, distribution and retailing of all footwear. After about ten years we could have a go at Obamacare using the footwear agency's model, if we find that the government agency has managed to satisfy everyone's wants and needs for footwear without increasing its cost.
The availability of footwear might not be as important as the availability of health-care, but it is something that nearly everyone uses. In fact, I'd bet there are more people in this country who do without health-care than do without footwear. And, as with health-care, there are people who do without some of their footwear needs because they can't afford it.
To be a fair experiment the approach taken to satisfy the footwear wants and needs of the people should be left completely up to the President, his Director of Footwear, the Footwear Commission and the DoF's staff. If, after considering her mandate and consulting her FC, the DoF decides that the existing free market system is the best means to satisfy the footwear demands, so be it. This outcome would be very telling. But we all know it's not likely to happen.
The first thing the DoF is most likely to do is address the affordability issue. And part of that issue is the matter of footwear envy. There are many people who would want the best footwear available even when they can't afford it and many of those would feel they have a right to the best footwear available. The DoF will find that there are several ways to deal with these issues:
- Produce only plain, inexpensive, utilitarian footwear so that everyone can afford it and everyone will be wearing the same footwear. Petition Congress to ban the import and wearing of foreign-made footwear.
- Levy a tax on the wealthy so everyone can have the footwear they want.
- Tell the poor that they will have to make do with the footwear they can afford, and deal with their envy of the more wealthy, because the Footwear Agency is subsidizing the low-cost footwear with the profits from the fancy expensive footwear.
The DoF will likely take the first approach above because Congress might be reluctant to pass a shoe tax and because she wouldn't want to face all the rowdy protesters offended by her talking tough to the poor. This will lead to demands from people for nicer footwear. To address those demands and keep the footwear affordable for the poor the DoF will impose price controls on the materials, equipment and services needed for footwear production. This will then lead to the need for price controls on everything that affects the production or availability of the footwear materials, equipment and services. And so on down the line.
The price controls will lead to footwear shortages, footwear rationing and a black-market for footwear. The DoF will establish an enforcement division to counter the black-market which is severely diminishing its revenue stream. She might call it the "war on illegal shoes."
Even if the DoF chooses to start with the existing free market system the temptation to meddle will be too much for her to resist. With her mandate and the inevitable demands from various "progressive" causes she will impose regulations beyond those already in place. The unintended consequences from these new regulations will call for additional regulations, and so on. To prevent footwear companies from collapsing from the weight of all these regulations she will have to bail them out financially, taking effective control of the companies. Then we're back to the scenario described above.
After ten years of the Footwear Agency Congress could have then tried to implement Obamacare. But no, we have already plunged into government run health-care without giving it a second thought.
Consider these items from Jeffrey Kacirk's Forgotten English calendar:
Villages in some parts of the country formerly possessed buildings known as "beggar barns." These barns usually belonged to the farm which was situated nearest the church, and wayfaring beggars were always given gratis a night's lodging and a meal in them. It was a popular belief that such homeless wanderers had a legal right to sleep in the church porch, and it was purely a sense of public decency which substituted the beggar barn. --Frederick Hackwood's Good Old Times, 1910
In the Middle Ages, many European communities subscribed to the notion that they had a moral obligation to assist wayfarers. During that time, many wanderers abused such hospitality, seeing that their vagacion (an early form of "vacation," referring to the "occupation" of a tramp and closely related to "vagrant") could be practiced indefinitely. Although over time popular sentiment turned against them, these increasingly resourceful men, women, and children continued sleeping in unlocked barns and gathering meals from orchard, field, and coop.
The English parliament enacted a number of unsuccessful laws to discourage unlimited freeloading, including one in 1572 known as the Act for the Punishment of Vagabonds.
So, over 400 years ago the English government knew it needed to take action to discourage freeloading, even though the excessive freeloading resulted largely from voluntary charitable acts of the citizenry. But now the government of the United States is daily taking actions that will encourage freeloading and force the citizenry to support it. (I should note that the modern English government lost its way long before the US government.)
If I were an intellectual, perhaps I could understand why supposedly smart people want to keep experimenting with socialism. They seem to be thinking that we should abandon capitalism and free markets because they aren't working perfectly. But clearly no other system has ever worked as well. I always come back to the conclusion that it's not about working well or even better, it's about power. The proponents of a bigger, more controlling government are simply using it to become members of the ruling class. They don't necessarily believe in it but they know there are plenty of "useful idiots" out there who do.
I own a 20 acre tract of farmland that qualifies for various US Department of Agriculture programs. (Yes, I sometimes get paid to grow nothing. Does that make me a welfare recipient? Is growing nothing the same as doing nothing?) Each year they send some papers for me to sign, accompanied by a document that explains the form I'm signing and the rules governing participation in their programs. A definition from the document:
Socially Disadvantaged Farmer or Rancher means, as determined in accordance with subparagraph 3P of this Appendix, a member of a group that, as declared and approved by the Deputy Administrator, is considered for these purposes to be a group whose members have been subject generally to racial, ethnic, or gender prejudice because of their identity as members of a group without regard to their individual qualities. The groups have been identified to include: (1) American Indians and Alaskan Natives; (2) Asian-Americans; (3) Black or African-Americans; (4) Hispanic-Americans; (5) Women. Other groups will not be included as a group to which this definition applies unless so declared by the Deputy Administrator. Persons submitting the contract should not check the box for socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher unless they certify that they are members of one of the five specific groups named above.
Note the phrases "have been subject generally to" and "without regard to their individual qualities." In other words, if you belong to one of the listed groups, you can be rich and famous and still be considered by the USDA to be socially disadvantaged. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are both socially disadvantaged in the eyes of the USDA.
Why should the benefits of being classified as socially disadvantaged accrue only to those subject to racial, ethnic, or gender prejudice? Why not regional prejudice? The "intellectual elite" in the northern states are clearly prejudiced against the common folk of the south. They think that if we gather to speak out against the move toward bigger government we'll all turn into raging lunatics. They're saying it every night on TV.
A ton of people, me included, are prejudiced against trial lawyers. So why shouldn't they be considered socially disadvantaged.
This and all other government righting-wrongs programs are completely absurd. In fact it's absurd that the federal government has a Department of Agriculture.
The present leaders of our country seem to want to turn us into an entitlement society. They feel that everyone is entitled to food, shelter, clothing, medical care, education, etc. They don't see any connection between the availability of these goods and services and the amount of individual effort expended in producing or acquiring them. It's almost as if they think all these things will magically appear.
I know that the problem with an entitlement society is that it lessens the incentive to produce. This is true for individuals and for companies. Individuals will work less when all their basic needs are guaranteed. Companies will fail when profit is outlawed and price controls are imposed. The government will have to take over production of all goods and services and force people to work. Black markets will develop. Utopia? I don't think so.
Some people think an entitlement society, or socialism, is a good thing and others think it is a bad thing. So how do we determine who is right? We need a test case. And I propose that we use Afghanistan for that test case. We are already in the process of nation building over there so it would be relatively easy to turn it into a testbed for an entitlement society. And we can't do much harm to the Afghans if the experiment doesn't work because they're already living in poverty.
I'm not proposing that we give them goods or money -- just limited services. That is, we would just send them a bunch of progressives to establish their government and run it as a closed system; no further free help from the outside. If outside goods and services are needed they will have to be purchased with inside goods and services. This entitlement society experiment will have to succeed or fail on its own.
This new government would likely decree right away that:
- Every village have a modern, full-service hospital that will provide free medical-care
- Every village have modern schools for both boys and girls
- Every city have a top-notch tuition-free university
- Transportation and communications systems be modernized
- Every home have access to electrical power
- Every family have a nice modern home
- Everyone have sufficient food and clothing
Then we could watch it unfold (it would be required that the world news media be allowed to observe and report). Right away the government would begin to realize that the hard part is the implementation. Something can't be supplied that isn't produced. If nobody works nothing will be produced. So how can they convince the people to work hard to build or produce all this when they have just been told that they are entitled to it, and when they probably aren't convinced they need or want it? The options are persuasion or force.
The government could persuade by offering workers titles and privileges that set them apart from the non-workers, but this conflicts with the progressives' belief that everyone should be equal. The government could persuade by giving the workers money in proportion to the amount of work they do, but that smacks of capitalism which progressives dislike. Some workers might be persuaded based on what they see as the merits of this new entitlement society, but probably not enough. That leaves force.
In order to make this work the government will eventually have to assign duties to everyone and take steps to ensure that the duties are performed. When it does it has, in essence, put in place a system that requires people to work for what they get. But not a very good one. When people are forced to work they aren't going to produce as much as those working voluntarily for money.
As I said above, I know that such an experiment will fail. But I also know that the progressives would still refuse to admit that it was due to bad policy. They would likely claim that the Afghans would be far worse off without their leadership.
Being entitled to something that doesn't exist is meaningless. If something is to exist someone has to produce it. If something is produced someone has to work. If work is done someone has to be forced or compensated. What do you prefer? Slave labor or capitalism?
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- Let's Use Afghanistan as an Entitlement Testbed
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- Why Not Give Universal Footwear a Try?
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