The Market — Not Government Planning — Brings Relief from Natural Disasters
No one must profit from the misfortune of others.
I have heard and read such assertions many times, virtually any time there is an emergency or disaster anywhere, or whenever some good involved is considered by someone as essential or something they “need.”
That is why, when I found it at the head of Leonard Read’s article “To Alleviate Misfortune,” in the November 1963 issue of The Freeman, it acted just the way a pull quote is designed–it drew me in. And what I found was certainly better thought out than in the many times it has been repeated with an air of presumption that no one with any empathy could harbor a different opinion.
Socialists…will, invariably, use bad predicament, disaster, misfortune as an argument for socialization…[but] It is important that we not be taken in by this “reasoning.”
Read’s core reason is an interesting version of a slippery slope argument about defending the private property rights and voluntary associations of markets.
Once we concede that socialism is a valid means to alleviate distress, regardless of how serious the plight, we affirm the validity of socialism in all activities.
It seems that when something is unusually scarce, as in a crisis or emergency, especially when it is something we allegedly need rather than just want, then making the best use of what is available could be considered even more important than usual, making an even stronger case for market mechanisms over clumsy and inefficient government allocation mechanisms, rather than conceding it is a cause for government takeover.
When we rule out profit or the hope of gain as a proper motive to supply drugs or to alleviate illness or to provide other remedies for misfortune, we must, perforce, dismiss profit as a proper motivation for the attainment of any economic end.
Read makes his case with an example few would have thought of–power tools.
Consider the scope of misfortune. True, illness is a misfortune as would be the nonavailability of drugs. But…the absence of any good or service on which we have become dependent qualifies as misfortune.
Imagine the disappearance of all power tools. This would be…disastrous…Our dependence on power tools is such that most of us would perish wer
Article from Mises Wire