Roger’s Rules

Déjà-Vu All Over Again

Sigh. The widely reported comment of the newly elected president of France, François Hollande, that his “true enemy” is “the world of finance” made me shake my head in… well, I was going to say “disbelief,” but that isn’t quite right. I believe it all right. It’s just that I am wearily aghast at the spectacle. Is there a more vivid example of what the philosopher Yogi Berra called “déjà-vu all over again”? Haven’t we been down this socialist, anti-capitalist road before? Don’t we know where it leads? Hayek provided the relevant street sign: it reads “Road to Serfdom.”

So M. Hollande does not like “the rich.” Has he not heard Aesop’s story about the goose that laid the golden egg?

A cottager and his wife had a Hen that laid a golden egg every day. They supposed that the Hen must contain a great lump of gold in its inside, and in order to get the gold they killed it. Having done so, they found to their surprise that the Hen differed in no respect from their other hens. The foolish pair, thus hoping to become rich all at once, deprived themselves of the gain of which they were assured day by day.

Here’s a question I would like to ask François Hollande (I’d like to ask it of Barack Obama, too): just where does he think money comes from? I sometimes wonder if socialists suffer under a species of arrested development. Some credulous children believe that the stork brings babies. So it is that socialists tend to believe that money comes from “the rich.” Need some dough for your social program? Simple, take it from “the rich” (however you define that elastic category) and give it to someone else via a government bureaucracy you have set up.

But what happens when the rich cease to be rich? What then?

The fundamental difference between the capitalist and the socialist has less to do with who owns the “productive forces of society” (in Marx’s phrase) than with their respective understanding of the purpose of economic activity. For the capitalist, the purpose of economic activity is the production of wealth; for the socialist, the purpose of economic activity is the redistribution of wealth: how the wealth gets generated is for the socialist a secondary question, a detail.

Socialists give the production of wealth such short shrift because they believe that wealth is brought by the stork. Or, what amounts to the same thing, they think that it magically appears when you turn the spigot of government largess. What pumps furnish the spigot is a question that the socialist is content to leave unasked. It reminds me of the socialist chap whom Bill Buckley once debated: He didn’t want the taxpayers to pay for his proposed program, he wanted the government to pay.

Poor baby. He actually thought he had said something intelligible when in fact he had merely underscored his naïveté about where money comes from.

François Hollande thinks he can hire 20,000 new teachers, raise taxes, and lower the retirement age from 62 to 60 with no consequences to the French economy. Sooner or later, reality will catch up with that fantasy. The question is, will it be soon enough for France?

Image and thumbnail courtesy shutterstock.