Human Events Blog

Nothing is free

Nothing is free

The Romney campaign is running a new television ad called “Nothing Is Free,” which is part of the Medicare pushback that is driving the Obama campaign out of its mind:

Beyond the specific ObamaCare issues raised in this ad, “nothing is free” makes for a good battle cry, as Romney and Ryan try to lead America into a new era of fiscal sanity.  It’s weird that grown adults must actually be reminded that, in a phrase beloved of science fiction author Robert Heinlein and economist Milton Friedman, There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

The government has nothing to “give” that was not first taken from someone else.  Furthermore, every time the government shovels economic sand in an ordained direction, it leaves a hole in its wake.  Unfunded mandates are a favored tool for hiding the true cost of government, but they merely conceal that cost – they don’t actually reduce it one nickel.  Ordering the private sector to spend a billion dollars is not, in the end, all that much different than taxing and spending a billion dollars, beyond minor quibbles about overhead costs.  In both cases, a billion dollars is being forced to go somewhere it didn’t want to go, and opportunities that would have been exploited by free people investing their own money are left untapped.

Big Government is very good at concealing the true extent of these direct, indirect, and opportunity costs, as well as convincing its dependent constituencies that they aren’t paying any price at all.  Costs are combined into a thick paste, and rolled thin across the population.  Who knows exactly where any given dollar of his tax money is going?  Who even knows how much tax he’s actually paying?

The answer to that latter question is “no one.”  Not a single citizen of the United States could actually list his precise tax burden.  The smartest businessmen, with the most skilled accounting teams, might be able to get within 10 percent of the correct number.  Everyone else remains largely ignorant of everything from “contributions” extracted from their employer each pay day, to corporate taxes passed along through consumer prices, such as the wheelchair tax mentioned in the Romney ad.

It’s particularly hard to grasp the enormous opportunity costs of government intervention… but Obama’s endless, grinding unemployment, due in no small part to the job-killing pressures of ObamaCare, is perhaps the brightest spotlight ever thrown upon opportunity cost for the layman.  Not only is there no such thing as a free lunch, but “free lunches” turn out to be far more expensive than allowing free people to earn and pay their own way, through commerce with competitive businesses in the free market.

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