A false alternative occurs when two options are given as the only solutions to a particular situation. In reality there are other, perhaps better, solutions available, but they are not considered.
In this chapter, we will consider a few common false alternatives, though of course many more exist than those covered here.
False Alternative #1: Coercion by Fraud or Force
Galambos cited two publications of Karl Marx as the greatest false alternatives in history.
In The Communist Manifesto of 1848 and Das Kapital of 1867, Marx advocated two entirely different programs to accomplish the goal of eliminating private property.
In The Communist Manifesto, Marx proposes a program of gradual confiscation of private property. Included in the list of ten proposals to bring this about is 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 contrast, Das Kapital is the epitome of violent force as Marx 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.
In Manifesto, the state confiscates property through fraud; in Kapital, the proletariat seizes property by force. Galambos observed that this 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.”
False Alternativew #2: Democracy or Tyranny
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.
Who should be elected President of the United States?
False Alternative #3: Democrats or Republicans
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 United Nations as an Alternative to War
False Alternative #4: The UN or War
Wars are caused by politics. The United Nations is a false alternative to war because the U.N. is a political organization. Neither the U.N. nor its predecessor, the League of Nations of the 1920s and 1930s, has ever stopped a war.
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 two 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.
Though a handful of faces appear in the poster above, it cannot begin to suggest the large numbers of perpetrators, which included top government officials, military and local officials, even ordinary citizens. Estimates of the death toll from the Rwandan Genocide range from 500,000-1,000,000.
Welfare versus Poverty
False Alternative #5: Poverty or Government Welfare Programs
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. Abundance is not created by state spending and poverty is not created by a lack of state spending.
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.
False Alternative #6: Prayer or no Prayer in School
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 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.
False Alternative #7: Poor Working Conditions or Government Action to Abolish Poor Working Conditions
It is taken as 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 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 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. 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. It was capitalism that made the sweatshop obsolete.
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.