“Would you rather have a broken arm or a broken leg? The answer is those are not alternatives. They’re the same type of thing—injury.”—Andrew J. Galambos
All political debates have three things in common.
- There is disagreement over political choices, each of which is certain to displease some or a large number of people affected by the choices.
- None of the political choices provides a real and permanent solution to the problem.
- All political choices involve coercion.
The political debates have ranged from subjects as broad as social and economic rules of life for all of humanity to disputes over an issue as narrow as whether students in American public schools should recite a religious prayer or a Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. each day.
These political debates are framed in terms of false alternatives—that is the proposed methods of accomplishing a political objective are identical in their logical content, and a real alternative is not even considered. Even though political action has led to the bankruptcy or near bankruptcy of a number of countries, the alternative of innovating non-political solutions is not discussed.
False alternatives are at the heart of virtually all political debates. The following are just a few examples:
□ Should the system of what is commonly called “government” be communism, socialism or political democracy?
□ Who should be elected President of the United States?
□ Is the United Nations the alternative to war between countries?
□ Is welfare the alternative to poverty?
□ Should the law require or prohibit prayer in public schools?
A false alternative is two different arguments that are supposedly the alternatives to a question where both methods of stating the solution are identical in their logical content. A real alternative is not considered.
Political rulers from the time of tribal chiefs and witch doctors down to the present era have ruled by force, or by fraud, or by both. See commentary to the chapter above entitled “From War, Slavery, and Poverty to Peace, Freedom, and Prosperity.”
Galambos cited two publications of Karl Marx (1818-1883) as the epitome of fraud and force, The Communist Manifesto of 1848 and Marx’s long book entitled Das Kapital (Capital) (1867). These publications contain two entirely different programs to accomplish the goal of eliminating private property. Galambos names them Marx I and Marx II in the chronological order of their publication.
Marx I, The Communist Manifesto, advocates political action by the state to “wrest, by degrees, capital from the bourgeoisie [middle class].” The term bourgeoisie as used by Marx meant people who own factories, farms, shopkeepers, members of the various professions, etc. and anyone who was not a member of the “proletariat.” The term proletariat meant the class of industrial wage earners who, possessing neither capital nor ownership of means of production must earn their living by selling their labor.
Marx I is a program of gradual confiscation of private property. Among a list of ten proposals to bring this about The Communist Manifesto advocates an income tax falling most heavily on those with the highest incomes, abolition of the right of inheritance, centralization of credit in a national bank, state control of communication, transportation, land use, agriculture and free education for all children in public schools.
In Germany after World War I the National Socialist German Workers (“Nazi”) Party of Adolf Hitler appealed to the German people with a political program modeled on the ideas of Marx’s Communist Manifesto.
Hitler’s version of National Socialism glorified the historical German ethos that was geared to a dictatorial state and a drive to war as the highest achievement of the state. The Nazi party, while ostensibly permitting private property, controlled or eliminated most private property by enslaving the German people to achieve Hitler’s goal of military conquest and subjugation of all of Europe from France in the west to Russia in the east. The terrible fate of the German people under Hitler’s National Socialism is described in a definitive history, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (1959) by William L. Shirer. 1
The word “fascism” has also been used to describe National Socialism as it existed under the dictatorships of Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) in Italy and Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) in Germany. 2
In Galambos’ view Marx I is the epitome of fraud, whereby people are gradually convinced through political means to consent to the taking of their property on the ground that it is in their best interest to surrender some of their property to confiscation.
In contrast, Marx II, Capital, is the epitome of force as this book advocates allowing the bourgeoisie to prosper under a system of capitalism until the injustice of bourgeois capitalism motivates the proletariat to rise up and take violent action to seize the property of the bourgeoisie all at once, by sheer force.
Galambos called Marx I and Marx II the greatest false alternative in history—abolition of private property through the fraud of convincing property owners that it was in their best interest to surrender their property contrasted with the violent seizure of property in a political uprising led by the communist party.
Galambos observed that the choice between having your property taken by fraud or by force is like being asked “Would you rather have a broken arm or a broken leg? The answer is those are not alternatives. They’re the same type of thing—injury.”
Both Marx I National Socialism and Marx II communism ostensibly intended to benefit mankind by eliminating exploitation of the many (the workers) by the few (the bourgeois middle class and property owners). Instead National Socialism and communism impoverished the many and benefited the few comprising the political elite that controlled society.
Political democracy as a false alternative to tyranny will be discussed in some detail in chapters to follow. At this point suffice it to say that while political democracy is at present highly esteemed throughout the world, it has not ended political coercion and wars. In the direct democracy of Athens in ancient Greece the people did not elect representatives to vote on their behalf but rather the citizens met to vote on legislation and executive decisions. The citizens of Athens, by majority vote, ordered the execution of the philosopher Socrates because he taught young people to question authority and think for themselves.
Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany through manipulation of the democratic processes of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) which ended with Hitler’s seizure of complete dictatorial power.
The most prominent political democracy in history, the United States of America, since its independence from Britain has been involved in eleven wars and a number of other military conflicts such as the brutal and bloody fighting between U.S. military forces and natives of the Philippine Islands following the U.S. occupation of the Philippines in 1899.
Communism vs. anti-communism
Anti–communism is a false alternative to the tyranny of communism because it does not offer freedom; it only opposes one type of tyranny—that of communism. Adolf Hitler was the most fervent of anti-communists because the German communist party was a big threat to Hitler’s ambitions to control Germany. The German communist party attempted to seize political power by violent means in Germany in 1918-1919.
Hitler convinced some of Germany’s wealthy industrialists to support him as a defense against communism. The German communist party was still strong with millions of members when Hitler seized dictatorial power in 1933. Once in power Hitler moved quickly to outlaw the communist party and persecute its millions of members who were among the first victims of the murderous tyranny of Hitler’s Nazi party.
Who should be elected President of the United States?
The choice between candidates for the presidency of the U.S. has always been between nominees of two major political parties. This choice presents a false alternative to the voters. One political party tries to bribe a majority of voters by saying, in effect, elect us and here is what we will do for you, while the other political party says, in effect, elect us and we will do the same at lower cost and with greater efficiency. But the costs of the federal state never decrease; they only rise no matter who is President.
The federal state has an extensive reach into and control over the lives of Americans through its powers of regulation and taxation. Each newly elected American president must necessarily act within the constraints of the American political structure as it has developed over time. Any candidate who proposed a major change in the status quo would be defeated. Failure would be the outcome for any newly elected President who tried to bring about a major change in the status quo, as evidenced by the fruitless political debate over limiting the size of federal debt and efforts to restrain the out-of-control growth in federal spending and debt.
The United Nations as an alternative to war
The United Nations is a false alternative to war because the U.N. is a political organization. Wars are caused by politics, as noted by the German military strategist Carl von Clausewitz who said famously that “war is a continuation of politics by acts of violence to compel our opponent to submit to our will.”
Neither the U.N. nor its predecessor, the League of Nations of the 1920s and 1930s has ever stopped a war. The League of Nations took no action when Italy under its fascist [National Socialist] dictator Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in the 1930s, or when Japan invaded Manchuria (part of China) in 1931 and the rest of China in 1937.
The U.N. took effective action against aggression only once, when North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, and the U.N. would have done nothing even then but for the United States under President Harry Truman spearheading military operations to repel N. Korea from S. Korea. The U.N. authorized this only because the Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council when the issue came up and therefore could not use its authority to veto Security Council action, which it most certainly would have done if present and voting.
The U.N. took no action to stop China’s conquest of Tibet in 1950, the border war between China and India in 1962, North Vietnam’s invasion of South Vietnam in the 1960s, the massacre of about 2 million people in Cambodia in the 1970s, the bloody civil war in Angola in southern Africa from 1975-1992, Argentina’s invasion of the British Falkland Islands in 1982, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and the genocidal massacre of 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994, to name just a few of the more notorious U.N. failures.
The U.N. failures in Yugoslavia and Rwanda were especially egregious given that the U.N. sent peacekeeping forces which were unable to stop massacres. The U.N. sent to Rwanda a peacekeeping force of several thousand soldiers, whose commander warned U.N. headquarters of the impending catastrophe, asked for and was denied permission to act to stop the slaughter. In 2000 the U.N. admitted that its reaction to the crisis in Rwanda was a failure. The tragedy in Rwanda was recounted in the film Hotel Rwanda (2004).
Welfare vs. poverty
It is widely believed in the United States that federal and state welfare programs are the alternative to poverty. In the U.S. beginning in 1964 under President Lyndon Johnson the federal state launched a “War on Poverty” consisting of massive increases in welfare spending.
As indicated in the preceding chapter, entitled Abundance and its Sources—Poverty and its Causes, the sources of abundance do not include spending by the state and the causes of poverty are not a lack of spending by the state.
Poverty, or the poverty line, is defined by law as the minimum income level below which a person is officially considered by the federal state to lack adequate subsistence and to be living in poverty.
What is considered poverty in the U.S. would be considered luxury in much of the world, where the international poverty line has been roughly $1 to $1.25 a day, compared to an income of $31 a day for an individual and $61 a day for a family of four at the high end of the poverty level in the U.S.
“95% of Americans now living below the poverty line have not only electricity and running water but also Internet access, a refrigerator and a television. . .” 3
In 2010 the federal state placed the poverty line for one person under 65 at $11,344 in annual income and the poverty line for a family group of four, including two children, at $22,133.
According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics poverty had been declining rapidly in the U.S. over the fifteen years 1950-1965, from 30% of the population in 1950 down to about 13% in 1965; but the nation’s poverty rate rose to 15.1 percent in 2010, higher than in 1965 at inception of the War on Poverty. 4
The beginning of the War on Poverty coincided with termination of the prior decline in poverty rate, despite the fact that since the beginning of the War on Poverty in 1964 the U.S. has spent enormous sums on a variety of welfare benefits for the poor. A recent estimate of the annual cost of the War on Poverty is that the cost is now over $1 trillion a year, the equivalent of a transfer averaging $27,000 per year to each of the people classified as poor by the state. 5
That welfare payments may be a disincentive to work for native-born Americans may be implied by the widespread employment of immigrants, here both legally and illegally, in certain industries. For example, a large percentage of the workers are immigrants from Mexico, other parts of Latin America, and parts of Africa and Asia in the restaurant industry; nursing aides, orderlies and attendants; house maids and housekeeping cleaners; the car wash industry; parking lot attendants; gardeners; and manicure/pedicure. These occupations in aggregate employ more than 15 million people in America, providing more than 10% of all employment. 6
Annual income of around $20,000 (about $18,000 after payroll tax deductions), typical for many of the occupations listed immediately above, is significantly less than the $27,000 average annual welfare transfer payments provided to those below the federal state’s poverty line.
$18,000 annual income would not cover bare necessities plus the cost of medical and automobile insurance for a person living alone. However, low income workers often are younger members of a family working in entry level jobs, or part of a family unit where two or more people are working. Small businesses operated by immigrants are typically a family affair with father, mother, and older children working in the business.
The War on Poverty has not reduced the percentage of people that the U.S. classifies as poor. Rather, the programs have created a new social pathology, a class of people dependent on the state wherein poverty, ignorance, crime and hopelessness are persistent. The book Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980 (1984) by Charles Murray documents the failure of the War on Poverty in terms of its adverse effect on earned incomes, employment, occupational opportunities, education, crime, and the family.
NOTE: A reader of this website sent the following comment:
“The Major Difference between Genius and Stupidity–is that Genius has its
Limitations! The food stamp program, part of the Department of Agriculture, is pleased to be distributing the greatest amount of food stamps ever. Meanwhile, the National Park Service, also part of the Department of Agriculture, asks us to “please do not feed the animals” because the animals may grow dependent and not learn to take care of themselves.”
In the 1960s the U.S. Supreme Court established as law of the land that prayer is prohibited in state schools. The false alternative regarding school prayer is that you must have either state mandated prayer in the public schools or must prohibit state-mandated prayer. This is entirely a political issue in state schools supported by taxation and where attendance is compulsory. In schools that are not maintained by state taxation, the proprietor of a school and his customers, the parents and children, could decide the issue of religious instruction. Those who wanted religious instruction could choose a school offering it and vice versa.
In contemporary America most children attend tax-supported public schools. In a following chapter on education we address the issue of providing education to all, including the poor, without taxation and state regulation. Suffice it to say to this point that the per pupil cost of public schools is actually very high; that the overall tax burden on even the poor is very high, and that, as we will contend below, without the expense of the federal and local states there would be ample resources in America to provide schooling to everyone capable of benefiting from it.
It is taken as a received item of absolute truth that the state is the alternative to harsh and inhumane working conditions. The prime example given is sweatshops of the 19th century where people worked long hours at sometimes dangerous work for low pay. The sweatshops were supposedly created and operated by capitalists in the 19th century and eradicated by labor laws and the activities of labor unions. The false alternative is a choice between free enterprise which supposedly created the sweat shops and state regulation which supposedly abolished them.
There were sweatshops in the 19th century in the U.S. and all the countries in which the industrial revolution was advancing. There are sweatshops now in Asia, i.e., factories where people work long hours for pay that is low by American standards, but high in comparison to their prior incomes in rural areas from which the workers emigrated. However, free enterprise did not create the sweat shop in England, America and other countries. It was inherited from a prior age as small business with low capital employed unskilled labor in the transition from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy. Capitalism did not create the sweatshops, rather it made them obsolete.
In an essay entitled “Why Wages Rise,” free market economist F. A. Harper (1905-1973) wrote in 1972 that wages rise and working conditions improve due to advancing technology and higher productivity. At the time of his essay (1972) Harper wrote that wage rates were higher in the U.S. than in any other country and about five times as high as they had been a century earlier. Harper demonstrated by statistical analysis and empirical observation that the cause of rising wages was unrelated to union membership, but rather was due to rising productivity caused by technological advances. That is, as observed by the eminent economist Ludwig von Mises, the difference between the income of the Chinese coolie and the American truck driver is due to the truck.
The remedy for false alternatives
Galambos argued that the answer and remedy to all false alternatives was epitomized by the statement “There is no such thing as a small interference with property.” In every false alternative discussed above the alternative that involves coercion through fraud or force diminishes human peace, freedom and prosperity.
The true alternative to coercive political “solutions” is the free market—through which people exchange goods and services on a voluntary basis. It is the free market that creates competition in price and quality. It is the free market which gives people the greatest choices, and which causes advances in prosperity.
Dealing with cases of exceptional hardship
The reader may say that there is no free market remedy for the plight of people who are handicapped by nature or by the accidents of life and are therefore unable to help themselves. For such cases the state and its ability to tax is the only way of caring for the helpless and needy. We will deal with this issue at some length in future chapters. However, suffice it to say for now that there are several answers to this objection. The solutions to the plight of the needy and helpless include the following.
□ A more advanced concept of insurance can solve some problems, for example birth defects. Birth defect insurance, to be discussed further below, could be available at a reasonable cost and in amounts adequate to provide medical care and income support for a lifetime if need be, if the insurance were taken out before pregnancy. Other forms of insurance already exist that can prevent people from becoming helpless and needy, including accident insurance, life insurance, disability income insurance, and insured or uninsured savings programs for retirement income.
□ Advancing medical technology is enabling more and more people with serious injuries or illnesses to return to relatively normal functionality and work.
□ The state itself causes much of the neediness seen in contemporary American society, by its taxing and spending which create disincentives to productive work, and by its welfare programs which have badly damaged family life which is itself a source of security and help for family members in need. Just as an overly generous parent may handicap a child by making life too easy and removing the incentive to become independent, so may the overly protective state do that to able bodied and healthy citizens who choose to become dependent on the state for their livelihood because it seems easier than working at an income commensurate with their skills.
- On Germany’s enthusiasm for military conquest, the subjugation of individual rights to the power of the state, and life in Nazi Germany after Hitler came to power and before the start of WW II see Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, chapters 4, 7, and 8. ↩
- Each became a dictator known as “the leader” (Il Duce for Mussolini and Der Fuerher for Hitler). Both died in April 1945 as WW II in Europe came to an end, Mussolini in a violent death at the hands of fellow Italians, Hitler as a suicide in the ruins of Berlin as the city was being overrun by the Russian army. ↩
- Attributed to the authors of Abundance: The Future Is Better than You Think (2012), by Peter Diamindis and Steven Kotler in review of that book, “Denying the Doomsayers,” by Michael Shermer, The Wall Street Journal, February 22, 2012. ↩
- http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/dramatic-increase-in-poverty-rate-one-small-step-for-obama-one-giant-step-for-the-so-called-war-on-poverty ↩
- See “Our Trillion-Dollar War,” by Edgar K. Browning, Independent Institute, September 5, 2008. ↩
- The restaurant industry is a leading employer of ethnic minorities. http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2011/02/14/according-to-restaurant-industry-statistics-women-and-minoritie/ Employment statistics kept by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics itemize the numbers employed in the industries referred to in the text accompanying this note. ↩
5 Responses to False Alternatives