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Thursday, October 18, 2012

What percentage of the time are you a slave?

America has a possibly terminal disease. A short list of America's symptoms in no particular order includes: a stagnant economy, massive debt, high crime rate, multi-generational poverty, blind hatred, willful ignorance, unhealthy lifestyles, and poor international relationships. Every American could probably agree that we are experiencing these symptoms. That would be the full extent of agreement possible. We all agree that we are experiencing these symptoms, but nobody can agree on a diagnosis. What is the cause?

In my own humble opinion, the pathogen is self-interest run amok—aka malignant self-interest. People make the decisions that they do because, almost universally, they believe that those decisions serve their own self-interest best. When an employer decides on the particular wage to pay his employee, he's weighing several factors, but never doubt that uppermost in his mind is his own self-interest. He's going to pay that employee the lowest amount that he believes the employee will accept without complaint. Complaints are no fun for an employer, and the biggest complaints of all—with unions and marching and signs and picket lines—are the least fun of all.

Unions are not fun for employers. In fact they're so terribly not at all enjoyable, you might even say that they are the exact opposite of an employer's self-interest.

Imagine: You have this great idea that you just know is one day going to make you a fortune. This concept—developing a great idea and selling that idea for lots of money—is sometimes called the American Dream. You work and save at your job for years and years. One day you finally have enough to start your own small business. You sink every dime you've got into your dream. Why did you do it? Why did you risk everything? Your safe comfortable job is now gone. Your life-savings are now gone. You've even borrowed money from the bank with your own home as collateral! If this business fails, you lose everything. You've put not only yourself but also your family in the direst jeopardy. Why on earth would you do something like this?

The worst part of all is the fear! Can you imagine it? Waking up in the morning knowing that you've got months at best, perhaps only weeks, to start making the sales you absolutely must have very soon or watch everything you have vanish without a trace. Most people would never do something like this. The vast majority of people would just keep working that safe job and saving for retirement, hoping their kids do well in school and go to college. But you weren't content to eke out a living hand-to-mouth scrimping by on Ramen noodles and beanie-weenies so that retirement and the kids' college would one day be possible. You wanted something better for yourself and for your family. Now it's make or break time! So you gulp down a Red-Bull and maybe nibble on a breakfast Hot-Pocket™ as you fight traffic to get to your brand new business and open those doors.

But when you get there what do you find? How about a bunch of the people you hired holding picket signs and marching in front of your business? Myself, I feel like I'd want to fire every last one of them. Who needs this? As an employer I understand that I need employees but I also understand that there's plenty of people looking for work and—by the way—nobody is irreplaceable. In a free country they'd all be gone—every last marcher fired on the spot! But this isn't a free country.

Let's just get one thing perfectly clear, freedom means no one can force me to agree to something that is not in my own best self-interest. If you force me to work for no compensation I'm your slave. If you take what's mine without my agreement, you're a thief and I'm your victim. If I know that you're just going to take everything I have again tomorrow, I won't bother making anything for you to take. If you force me to work and make things so that you'll have something to take, then once again, I'm your slave.

So right off the bat it looks like people who work for a living are partially slaves to the state. A portion of our wages is taken involuntarily. Are you a slave 15% of the time? Maybe you're one of the lucky ones who's a slave 28% of the time. The richest workers of all are lucky enough to be slaves 35% of the time. Of course, nobody is forcing any of us to work, so by definition none of us are slaves.

What a great system we have! 47 percent of the population pays no federal income tax. So their effective time spent as a slave is never. They don't spend a single moment of their lives in slavery to the state. But that 47 percent is not even the half of it!
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- More than one in three Americans lived in households that received Medicaid, food stamps or other means-based government assistance in mid-2010, according to a new report.

And when Social Security, Medicare and unemployment benefits are included, nearly half of the nation lived in a household that received a government check, according to the analysis of third-quarter 2010 Census data done by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a libertarian-leaning think tank. That's more than 148 million Americans. Those numbers are on their way up thanks to the Great Recession and its aftermath, which have pushed record numbers of people onto public assistance programs. In particular, the stubbornly high unemployment rate has left millions of Americans in dire straits.

In 2008, one-quarter of people lived in households receiving a government lifeline and about 45 percent a government check, according to the Census Bureau. The nation's safety net has become fodder for the 2012 election. Republican presidential candidates have accused President Obama and his party of turning America into an entitlement nation.

The federal government sent a record $2 trillion to individuals in fiscal 2010, up nearly 75% from 10 years earlier.
Apparently 53 percent of Americans are slaves at least part of the time to the 34 percent who receive benefits from the government and pay no taxes. But let’s get back to self-interest. It's in my own self-interest to live in a nice neighborhood, have a nice house, send my kids to a good school, and have a nice comfortable next-egg for when I retire. How do I get that? I can't do it as one of the 47%. They've agreed to subsist at the poverty level in order to avoid spending a single moment in slavery. That's their choice. You don't agree?

From the moment I was born I made choices. To cry or not to cry, that was the only question back then. My choices became greater and my decisions weightier the older I grew. If I had chosen to walk down the easier path, the road more traveled, I'd have found fewer options at the end of that road. I could have spent my youth playing video games and watching television. I could have dropped out of high school. I could have spent my nights with my girlfriend and we could have together made decisions that gave us a baby. Or two babies. Or three. I could have decided that selling drugs was the best way to live the American Dream. Regardless of my circumstances today, you have to agree that I was in control the whole time. I made every decision that puts me where I sit right now. So the 47% decided day-after-day, moment-by-moment to be where they are today, whether they realized that fact or not.

So where are we today? The hardest workers are slaves to the hardly working. Employers are forced to accept agreements against their own best self-interest, not by the unions, but by the state which forbids employer retaliation against union extortion. And the most egregious example of rampant self-interest run amok can be found when the unions join together with the state in that most unholy of matrimonies, the public sector union. This is the dark heart of the cancer that is killing America. This is the part that a surgeon would say absolutely has to be cut out.

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