How to Be a True Benefactor in Society
One of the most striking things about electioneering is that every politician and sycophant claims to be a benefactor to Americans, ever more stridently as the election approaches. But every one of them seeks to help Pauls out of the pockets of Peters, which is being a thief when both sides of that equation are counted rather than being a benefactor. And even the best-intended government efforts in such areas rely on a false “pretense of knowledge,” as Friedrich Hayek put it, that limits their ability to transform promised benevolence into actual improvement.
Leonard Read addressed this issue a half century ago in “How to Be a Benefactor” in his book Then Truth Will Out. He focused on the information problem facing government benevolence and the necessity of extracting the resources necessary from others. Perhaps even more important, he makes the case that acts coordinated through voluntary exchange in markets provide vastly more benefits for those they deal with than do efforts labeled as benevolence. Consequently, government actions to acquire the resources to “do good,” inevitably wipe out joint gains that would otherwise have been produced by specialization and exchange, undermining by far the greatest mechanism of producing mutual improvement that exists. As a result, the good intended to be done (but not necessarily accomplished) may often be outweighed by the harm “successfully” imposed on others, even when such harm is not intended.
In a world where many praise every well-intended act to help someone, even when it fails to do so effectively, but denigrate anything that might be said to be “tainted” by self-interest, that message is well worth remembering in evaluating the promises ma
Article from Mises Wire