The free market doesn't make people poor. People do.
Restricting free trade arrangements (beyond preventing the use of force and fraud on others) cannot solve the real problem, yet it hobbles the market’s ability to coordinate people’s cooperative and productive plans, causing harm in the misguided attempt to accomplish good.
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Intended ends may be the vision that inspires people, so much so that they ignore whether the means are morally defensible. That is, the utopian ends envisioned can be chimeras of self-delusion that can be used to justify immoral means. And if the collectivism to be imposed requires immoral means, one cannot assert the result is a moral system:Skip to next paragraph
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[Many] people expect to achieve lofty goals without any thought of the means they use to attain them…[but] a hard look at means and ends is appropriate.
Ends, goals, aims are but the hope for things to come, in a word, aspirations. They are not a part of the reality…from which may safely be taken the standards for right conduct. They are no more to be trusted as benchmarks than are day dreams or flights of fancy. Many of the most monstrous deeds in human history have been perpetrated in the name of doing good — in pursuit of some “noble” goal. They illustrate the fallacy that the end justifies the means.
Examine carefully the means employed, judging them in terms of right and wrong, and the end will take care of itself.
An individualist…looks upon society as the upshot, outcome, effect, recapitulation incidental to what is valued above all else, namely, each distinctive individual human being.
[Quoting Hayek]: “[W]e differ not so much on ultimate values, but on the effective means of achieving them.” Thus, if we would find the distinction between collectivism and individualism…examine the actions — means — that are implicit in achieving the goals.
[There are] opposed means implicit in the pursuit of collectivism or of individualism…So, for us to understand…we must discover what is implicit in the collectivistic as well as in the individualistic approach.
Implicit in the collectivistic approach…is the masterminding of the people who make up society…The control of the individual’s life is from without…
The collectivistic view holds that society is the prime concern…The individual does not fit himself into place but, instead…is assigned that niche or role which the political priests believe will best serve whatever societal pattern they have formulated…These coercive actions…are implicit in and must logically follow from the beehive way of looking at humanity.
Implicit in this beehive view is that men exist who are competent to form the ways and shape the lives of human beings by the millions…that there are those who not only can rightly decide what is best for all of us but who can prescribe the details as to how the best that is in us can be realized.
Any conscientious collectivist, if he could see beyond his utopian goals and thus properly evaluate the authoritarian means his system of thought demands, would likely defect…
However lofty the goals, if the means be depraved, the result must reflect that depravity. Therefore, the eventual outcome of the collectivistic way of life may be accurately predicted by anyone who understands the means which must be employed.
People who call themselves individualists rarely reflect on the means implicit in their philosophy. Individualists thus overlook the merits of their means to the good life just as the collectivists overlook the shortcomings of their way. When only ends are envisioned and means ignored, there can be no reliable estimate as to whether the consequences will be good or bad.
When the individual replaces the beehive as the ultimate goal…the means implicit in achieving such a goal must be radically different.
Either I will concentrate on me and my welfare or on others and their welfare…mind my own business or mind other peoples’ business.
In view of the obstacles to the relatively simple task of self-realization, reflect on the utter absurdity of my…undertaking to manage the lives of millions.
Attention to self is not a disregard for others. On the contrary, each individual best promotes his own self-interest by peaceful, social cooperation as in the free market. Indeed, the more I make of myself the more are others served by my existence…The way to assume “social responsibility” is for the individual to rise…as far as possible.
If we concede…that man has a right to his life, it follows that he has a right to sustain life, the sustenance being the fruits of one’s own labor. Private ownership is as sacred as life itself.
Private ownership lies at the very root of individual liberty. Without it there can be no freedom; with it freedom is secure…It is senseless to talk about freedom if the right of private ownership be denied.
Can we pronounce a moral judgment on these means implicit in the individualistic goal…to the pursuit of self-perfection and the right of owning what one produces? … These means serve as a powerful thrust toward the individual’s material, intellectual, moral, and spiritual emergence — and that is right! Others — those who comprise society — are the secondary beneficiaries of individual growth. If we would help others, let us first help ourselves by those means which qualify as righteous.
Visionary or utopian ends may inspire people to pursue what turn out to be statist failures, sacrificing liberty for innumerable “good causes.” Read argued powerfully that we should instead focus on the means (voluntary versus coercive) rather than stated goals or ends that can often be achieved only in someone’s imagination. And since the means utilized by statist “solutions” are immoral, such systems are morally inferior to voluntary arrangements, not morally superior.
Leonard Read recognized that liberty — voluntary arrangements that spring up, once one’s rights to oneself and one’s production are protected — provides the means of achieving what is actually achievable in advancing society. As we develop ourselves, we each have more to offer others, accomplishing the goals of statist utopias, without immoral acts, that they themselves cannot, despite their immoral acts. And what freedom has historically accomplished, beyond anyone’s ability to envision, extended to further as-yet-unknowable possibilities (beyond the fact that it will benefit those who voluntarily participate) was at the heart of his inspirational vision.
To follow in Leonard Read’s path toward increasing liberty, we too also develop our ability to “see” the unseen (and often unimagined) good that can only be accomplished by freeing people’s ability to peacefully create and innovate. To complement that skill, we must also be able to “see” and articulate the inherent failings of the coercive and immoral means employed toward utopian goals, which are unachievable despite such means. With such binocular vision, liberty can be recognized as far more inspirational than any statist alternative. If that is the vision we hope others to catch, that is the vision we need to better articulate, as Read argued over and over again.
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