by Leonard E. Read
He sins as much who holds the sack aw he who fills it – Gabriel Meurier
Richard Weaver wrote a book entitled, Ideas Have Consequences. Ideas do indeed shape our way of life and mold our very being. However, we think in words; and what we mean by the words we use, and what others think we mean by them , may range from the bright lights of creativity to the dark shadows of destruction. The scholarly authors of The Meaning of Meaning (Charles Ogden and Ivor Richards) referred to “the tyranny of words,” meaning, of course, their misuse and the consequent misunderstanding and confusion. As someone phrased it years ago:
I know you believe you understand what you think I said. But I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.
Not only do we need to know the ideas and practice the ways, we also need the words to explain how freedom works its wonders. And what words will best describe and explain freedom’s opposite? How does one make it clear that accepting coercively confiscated “benefits” is just as sinful as the confiscation itself? It would seem self-evident that if no one would accept social security payments there would be no governmental plundering to finance the program. And the same is true of thousands of other ignoble schemes.
“He sins as much who holds the sack as he who fills it.” The acceptance of plunder is as sinful as the plundering itself. But where are the words to portray the sinful nature of plunder?
Many of us, over the years, have used the words “special privilege” to describe freedom’s opposite – the plundering way of life. But these words no longer serve to describe the undesirable; they have lost their derogatory impact.
So widespread is the practice of plunder that what were at one time devised as special grants of political power – and were more or less clearly recognized as such – are now claimed as the inalienable rights of the special class spawned by such privileges. Among pigs at the trough, there is no stigma attached to the specialist; he may indeed be considered more saint than sinner.
So, why not use another word that has a chance of clarifying our meaning? Let’s try an acronym – the first letters of several truly definitive words: Living Off Others Thoughtlessly – LOOT!
Looting is an accurate synonym for plundering and still carries a sharp verbal sting which most of us would rather avoid. Nevertheless, many among us today are thoughtlessly living off the labor of others
Throughout history there have been looters of this or that variety. But we seem now to be confronted with a progression of such harmful behavior. As more and more people have abandoned moral scruples – feathering their nests at the expense of others – looting in its countless forms has more and more become a way of life.
Emerson wrote, “Thought is the seed of action.” Honest, moral and sound economic thought results in commendable and creative action; each person serves himself through serving others. But if dishonest, immoral and uneconomic thinking prevails, the results must be harmful, not only to others but to self as well. Such thoughtlessness, then—rather than careful thought – is the seed of action which presently bedevil us. And the seeds, more often than not, are words with garbled meanings, such as the twisted meaning of “special privilege” – warped from bad to good. The Tyranny of words!
It is increasingly evident that countless millions in all walks of life thoughtlessly “live” off others; they loot and they don’t know it. They are unwitting victims of their own naivete, stumbling along the devolutionary road.
Does a professional thief think of himself as a looter? No, he probably thinks of himself as a professional. He has only a primitive or stunted mentality, like the tribesmen of yore who raided distant tribes and made off with what they thoughtlessly regarded as theirs. Economically illiterate — but innocent!
So, we have in the professional crook an unconscious looter suffering no mental pains but glorying in his “gains.” Exceptional? No, tens of millions fall into this identical category, and with pride instead of guilt.
Frederic Bastiat helps us to see through this shameful practice:
See if the law (government) takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to others persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.
It is obvious that government would not take from some and give to others were the others to reject the loot. It follows then, that the recipients of ill-gotten gains are as sinful as the government which effects the transfer by force.
Only the hardened professional criminals – a fraction of the population—would personally so indulge themselves. The vast majority would refrain from immoral action were it a you-and-me relationship. Honesty would prevail.
However, when government does the coercive taking and handing out, most citizens –those who do no thinking for themselves – are relieved of any sense of indulging in crimes. Instead they experience a false sense of absolution. Their lack of vision obscures reality!
In compiling a list of looters, let us take care not to confine it just to the “beneficiaries” of food stamps, medicare, rent control, federal housing projects, workers paid not to work or farmers not to farm, and countless thousands of others engaged in more or less obvious forms of looting. In fairness, we must label all looting as such, and much of it is far from obvious. We must include all instances where coercion, be it private or public, is employed to “benefit” some at the expense of others. The list is too long to count, let alone explain, so a few samplings must suffice.
In St. Louis it was a Gateway Arch that taxpayers from every state were compelled to help finance. Elsewhere, a school, library, park, dam, housing project or whatever. Is there a community in the U.S. A. without one or more such monuments to looting?
Minimum wage laws coercively invoked, with strong support from labor unions, cause large-scale unemployment, the burdens of which all taxpayers are compelled to share. This, too, is a form of looting.
Businessmen and their associations obtain legal prohibitions of free exchange, such as tariffs, embargoes and quotas. They are no less looters than are the striking workmen. How is this looting done? All others are deprived of the opportunity to produce in those fields – the looting or limitation of their livelihood and their lives.
At this point, let us be mindful of that old adage, “the pot calling the kettle black.” For we critics of looking may be looters ourselves. Plunder is so rampant that everyone in involved more or less – unconsciously participating or trapped beyond escape. Doubtless, you are trapped in the social security “lootery.” I am trapped in the socialist mail “system.” Examples abound. This predicament poses the final question: What should we critics of looting go? What might the right tactic be?
Perhaps another acronym may help to clarify the creative force: Living In Good High Thought; LIGHT! To see the LIGHT, we need what I would call intellectual binoculars. We should see, not with just one, but with both eyes.
The vast majority see with one eye only and as a consequence, observe merely surface or false appearances. Being half-blinded results in discouragement and frustration; it lacks any creative stimulus – life’s mission abandoned.
Fortunately, there are those who see with one eye the falseness of LOOT, and with the other observe the true LIGHT. To thus see beneath the surface brings enlightenment – encouragement. Such persons are aware of the growing numbers who are beginning to see the destructiveness of plunder and how freedom works its unbelievable wonders.
The half-blind see only the shadows. Those with “intellectual binoculars” can share the insight of Goethe:
Where the light is brightest, the shadows are darkest.
*Leonard E. Read wrote this book in 1978.