Peace, love and schadenfreude
- Ivo Vegter
- 17 Nov 2009 08:10 (South Africa)
Funny how those who claim to care about the poor gloat smugly when an advocate of free markets incurs a loss. The presumption is that supporters of capitalism are rich, don't care about the poor, and merely argue their own pocket book.
I responded to a note cheering the actions of an electricity thief (a "Robin Hood", he was called), with a complaint that electricity theft had recently cost me a fortune. This news was met with glee by a first-world hippie. He was "totally comfortable" with my misfortune, he said, publicly. The schadenfreude was palpable, and infuriating.
I have never made any claims about my personal prosperity. Not only because it is not worth bragging about, but also because it has no relevance to the arguments I make as a columnist. I don't judge other people's opinions by their personal wealth either.
However, this kind of callous presumption couldn't be left unchallenged.
My correspondent was shocked to discover that the incident not only forced me to move, lest I get disconnected, evicted, or involved in a nasty court dispute, but that the move left two newly unemployed people in its wake. They have yet to find new jobs.
Suddenly, the thought of this free-market capitalist pig losing thousands to theft wasn't so pretty any more.
What made his smug presumptuousness personal, though, was the implied insult to my integrity.
It apparently isn't enough that I don't earn income other than from writing. That I rarely take corporate gigs, for fear of such relationships being used against me. That I am not oil-industry funded, nor get paid by (or own shares in) any company I might write about. That I do not join organisations and turn down invitations to sit on committees, for much the same reason.
Apparently, merely being a "beneficiary" of the free-market capitalism I advocate is enough to damn me. I merely argue my own pocket-book, he thought.
Instead of making an intellectual counter-argument, he attacked the man and his motives.
I am, of course, a beneficiary of free-market capitalism. Without it, I wouldn't have the freedom to do what I love. Without it, I would probably earn even less than I make as a second-rate hack with a surfeit of opinions. To the extent that our market is free, it benefits me as much as it benefits everyone else.
His meaning, however, was that he thought I was rich, and well able to afford the occasional theft or fraud committed against me by people who, again in his naive presumption, he believes to be less well off than I am.
This hippie isn't alone. In a recent conversation with a government official about whose performance I'd been rather scathing in a column, I declined the invitation to be lectured in person for a few hours on the basis that doing so would involve costly travel. I explained that I live in Knysna.
"Oh, lucky you, living in one of the most beautiful parts of the country," he smugly told me, as if he'd caught me at something. "Some people aren't so privileged, you know."
The implication, dripping off every sarcastic word, was that I was a complacent white capitalist, luxuriating in unearned wealth, picking on a poor, honest, black guy whose only purpose in life is serving others.
I could have been defensive. My cost of living is now lower than it was in Johannesburg. I fled having been fleeced by crime. I could have offered to compare cars, houses, or incomes. That would have been a real zinger, since I'm fairly sure our taxes buy him a rather more lavish lifestyle than I can afford.
Doing so would have suggested that his insult might have merit, however. My prosperity, or otherwise, had nothing to do with the issue at hand.
So I merely pointed out that his noble intention of serving others was exceeded only by his conspicuous failure to achieve it, and that the tax-paying public deserves to be informed accordingly.
What does my wealth, or lack of it, have to do with that?
Contrary to the belief of such insular people, it is precisely the poor who need free markets the most. They suffer most from high telecommunications prices charged by the protected cartel established by the state. They suffer most from an education system whose only outcome has been to raise yet another lost generation. They suffer most from inadequate protection of property rights; anyone who thinks they don't suffer crime or care about their property is deluded. They suffer most when import tariffs or other barriers to free markets raise the price of clothes or food. They suffer most when they cannot claim title to their land, to sell it or mortgage it to raise capital.
By contrast, they stand the most to gain from the freedom to maximise their wealth by trading with whomever they choose, engaging in productive effort, establishing businesses without regulatory hurdles to jump. More importantly, they stand to gain from the economic activity that such freedom encourages: there's nothing natural about a high unemployment rate.
The smug hippie couldn't accept this view. He pointed to Scandinavia as proof that socialism is better for the poor. However, if this were true, why doesn't this hold for the socialist enclaves of Central and South America? Why doesn't it work in Africa? Why has India stagnated in times of socialist control, and grown richer whenever liberal reforms were made?
Johann Rupert, chairman of Richemont, recently told an audience what he said to his well-meaning but socialist daughter: "In order to give money to the poor, you have to make it first."
The Scandinavian countries – including the favourite model for social democracy, Sweden – got rich through free trade and free markets. They imposed socialist policies only after they got rich. They're drawing on their savings, so to speak. The socialist policies can last only as long as the prosperity that was created through entirely different policies. There's another column in that observation, in fact.
I think the hippie's argument on Scandinavia is wrong, but at least it's an argument.
Presuming that I'm rich and protecting my own interests when I favour free markets is not an argument. It is a slur on my integrity. It would be offensive and irrelevant even if it were true.
That said, I'll grant that absent the rhetoric of personal attacks, socialists, communists and unionists really do have very little of intellectual value to fall back on. I do have a heart, you know.
- Do Malema's followers understand ‘agrarian reform’?
- Look ma, I'm defending Shell's record in Nigeria!
- Any weather is evidence for global warming
- U-turn prof finds his fracking fears are avoidable
- Ramphele et al: The world according to angry feminists
- On HIV/Aids and scary-big numbers
- Cherry-picking ‘grey literature’ on rhino horn
- 350,000 reasons to kill a black rhino
- Eight myths about libertarians
- New Year’s resolutions for other people
- All I want for Christmas is a fire pool
- In defence of Donald Trump
- My old South African flag
- Fearful Fukushima fiction fatigue
- Do we tolerate private sector corruption?
- In defence of a lion killer
- Save the rare wine and endangered craft beer
- Forever blowing bubbles: shale gas economics
- Promotion and Protection of Investment Bill: When “certainty” means “wait and see”
- This land is my land: a revolution
- The launch of SA's Libertarian Party: herding cats in time for 2014
- The African case against the ICC
- The fossil fuel subsidy myth
- Think of the little fishies!
- The hilariously misunderstood libertarian
- The sickly history of sweeteners
- Pants on fire, but they’re not mine
- The obstructionism of shale gas activists
- How mind-numbing numbers whip up fear
- Why pick on Khanyi Dhlomo?
- Half-measures will fail the rhino
- Malema’s righteous anger... and naïve confusion
- Lottery licence to go to one lucky winner
- Vaccinations: when the state stabs the people
- Do reusable shopping bags kill people?
- The long walk to serfdom
- The Karoo desperately needs development
- The trials of Samson Shuttleworth
- The girl who kicked the hornet’s nest
- Raping the discourse about rape
- Who is the reasonable man?
- Fracking: Debating a big deal
- Who needs the Queen’s English?
- Electric cars: Taking from the poor to give to the rich
- Business Licensing Bill: An indefensible defence
- Red-tape tourism
- The Big Business Bribery Bill
- On Thatcher and society, Vavi and the market
- Extinction: Let’s make up numbers and panic!
- Feeding the world is getting easier
- Stop talking shit: Build your own toilet
- Climate change is pseudo-science
- Anti-competitive competition law
- The Department of Less Government
- An open letter to President Zuma
- In defence of Kim Kardashian
- The world’s weirdest wildlife sanctuary
- Boycott calls are simple-minded
- In defence of vegans
- The population explosion implodes
- Environmental backpedalling picks up pace
- How Mangaung can help and hinder entrepreneurs
- The elusive libertarian enclave
- The Gathering: Ivo Vegter
- The hidden overemployment crisis
- The case for constructive environmentalism
- Privatise the Western Cape's shacks
- Tenders: Not open to employees or their families
- Hurricanes fuel climate sensationalism
- Next: Gross-out warnings on food
- No new deal: The failure of Zumanomics
- Benoni has a bright idea
- Was I wrong about acid rain?
- Public food gardens: Where dumb ideas thrive
- Rethinking the costly food label madness
- Give hunting a chance
- Fracking gets green light, but here's the risk
- Socialists, bless 'em, visit Cape Town
- Buy a 1Time ticket now
- Give the ANC credit where credit is due
- The myth of the competent apartheid government
- It's a disaster that 'peak oil' is not a disaster
- No Gravy: a label for sustainable business
- This lightbulb's going to blow
- Smokers? Get 'em up against the wall!
- Inflating the obesity scare
- Bring a Shotgun to School Day
- GMOs: Hacking genes to feed the world
- The hidden dangers of charity
- Fracking: the unread paper debated
- Fracking: The “U-turn” paper nobody has read
- Eco-cronyism is as dangerous as any other
- SKA: Be grateful Karoo residents didn't object
- Energy: Get cracking on fracking
- Fair trade, unfair trade-off
- Casual labour is only bad for Vavi's unions
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- How do we fix our dismal education?
- Barter: the rebirth of sound money
- Rights are not entitlements
- Debunking 'limits to growth' inanities
- Tax: Why align with "most other countries"?
- Newspaper sensationalism doesn't help rhinos
- Rolling Stone reprises Gasland's fracking fantasies
- Cosatu's manipulative march move
- Why do 16 million people not constitute an economy?
- The age of smear politics
- Does fracking cause earthquakes?
- The Chinese model is morbidly obese
- Green tech: doubling down on a losing bet
- Rape, pornography, and hell's grannies
- Petrol taxes won't hurt the poor
- Jailtime mooted for bad weather warnings
- Let's ban bans, and start with CITES
- In defence of overpaid sport stars
- On the death of Kim Jong-Il
- COP17: Let's ban fire
- Cancer gets you when nothing else can
- COP17: The 'party on' agenda
- COP17: The Blue Line of Death
- New seven natural inanities
- Occupiers' anger is all that makes sense
- The Luddites and Technocrats live on
- Malema marches for economic slavery
- Profitable purveyors of pudendal prettiness
- Sense? Us?
- If they want rhino horn, let's sell them some
- "Stimulate" economy by ending telco abuses
- Executive pay makes nobody poorer
- Malema's real persecution
- Mogoeng: Lock up your daughters
- Don't mandate insurance, deregulate healthcare
- I sympathise with Malema's persecution complex
- Short selling: panicked pols ban proof of failure
- Don't blame those who saw it coming
- What's obscene about profit?
- In defence of Bombela
- Dear president Zuma, you are not above the law
- The economics of love
- Treasure the Karoo? Ban the SKA!
- Malema is right, you know
- Gautrain's PPP: political patronage profiteering
- Kumi Naidoo is no hero
- LeadSA fails to lead when it matters
- No logo means carte blanche
- The drug war: dopey but dangerous
- A response to fracking critics
- Don't vote. It's your right.
- Welcome Walmart
- If you're happy and you know it clap your hands
- Buy local, support poverty
- Ubuntu, the free-market way
- Karoo fracking scandal exposed!
- I'm ashamed for my profession
- The bill of bunkum
- Being gay: a brand new concept!
- Who's afraid of the nuclear wolf?
- The nationalisation canard
- Ogilvy should grow a spine
- The new robber barons
- A classy revolution: Why we cared
- Bombastic Bombela balks
- Liberty is more than mere democracy
- Gautrain has a law unto itself
- The irony of 'services for all'
- How to hire a hitman in SA
- Arrive alive and neurotic
- The oppression of taxis
- Protection of Information Bill and why WikiLeaks is so dangerous
- Fifa, Russia and Qatar deserve each other
- One day, we'll all hate WikiLeaks
- The cycling mafia strikes again
- What Julius got for Christmas
- Let's return the beads
- Away with fascist seat belt laws
- Tintin Mbeki in the Sudan
- How the ANC can make everyone happy
- Currency: the race to the bottom.
- Hurrah for national healthcare!
- Give Zimbabweans citizenship
- Carte Blanche has no carte blanche
- That finger-licking, lip-smacking taste
- Bomb the barbaric lot already
- Green tax: another raid is coming
- Do strikers deserve anything?
- The media will lose this battle
- Global warmism needs a fisking
- A glass half-full
- Go ahead, have a baby
- Stop the handouts - end xenophobia
- The right to fire
- FIFA's heart of darkness
- Have some self-respect
- I ordered an orange skirt
- Secretly, Match blames South Africa
- The stupendous Gautrain: a rare marvel!
- The Fifa conquistadors are coming!
- What's wrong with everyone?
- Leave poor BP alone
- The destructive power of government
- The bonsai economy
- The darkness of Africa
- Who is ripping off whom?
- Anatomy of a whitewash
- While FIFA takes over, we fight
- The pointless pretence of Earth Hour
- Ten reasons to reject climate alarmism
- Really, boycott the FIFA farce
- The climate dominoes fall
- Lessons in ethics from Dick Cheney
- Screw the consumer
- In defence of bankers
- Break the banking cartel
- Julius Malema, the walking contradiction
- Boycott FIFA
- Climate clarity
- In defence of Boney M
- Pray Copenhagen fails
- Capitalism is not unkind
- Climate fraud kills people
- Pop goes the hot air balloon
- Peace, love and schadenfreude
- The irony of the left
- Too late to cool it?
- Going cold turkey