by Paul Gregory
“I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” Barack Obama October 13, 2008
The story below is based on Thomas Mayor’s Hunter-Gatherers: The Original Libertarians. He demonstrates that we are genetically programmed to respect individual rights to the fruits of our own efforts. Our prehistoric forbearers did not engage in voluntary redistribution. They shared perishable food, not out of altruism, but as insurance and reciprocal gift giving. Consistent shirkers were expelled from the band. If anyone tried to force them to redistribute, they simply picked up and moved on to another hunting ground.
Here is the story:
“A young community organizer is struck by lightning and is transported back to 20,000 BC, sitting around a fire as twenty five cold fur-clad men recount their day of hunting and gathering.
The community organizer feels an immediate kinship. His Ivy League course on “Liberation Writings from Marx-Engels to Cornell West” taught him that these noble “first communists” constitute “our loving, peaceful, lyrically fair human core.” Shared belief in collective production and equal distribution make us spiritual brothers. He is fortunate to be able to observe the “blissful conditions of a fabulous golden age of the remote past,” as one writer phrased it. This should be fun.
The glorious savages name him their leader. Anyone who could make fire with the “flick of a Bic lighter” must be a god. Well, if our intrepid time traveler can organize tough Chicago neighborhoods, he can help this clan live up to its principles of collectivism and redistribution.
The next day, the community organizer dispatches the hunters and gatherers. He divides them into groups of five and observes with dismay as they depart in ones and twos. He waits near the fire as they return – some with food, others empty handed. The rugged Thor returns with an antelope, and the clan gives him the place closest to the fire’s warmth. The community organizer has to move.
Our community organizer writes observations in his notebook. Indeed, the successful hunters and gatherers share, except with two they call Hapless and Helpless. Our community organizer waits in vain for his share. Apparently hunter and gatherers think a god should know how to provide for himself. He goes to bed hungry.
The next day Gor bags a deer. He shares with all except Hapless, who got lost, and Helpless, who sprained his toe. Now Gor gets the place closest to the fire. The Community Organizer gets nothing.
Outraged, the community organizer rebukes Thor and Gor. They should pay their fair share! Down-on-their-luck Hapless and Helpless need a helping hand. Also community organizers don’t work for nothing. In a dramatic gesture, he waves his magic cigarette lighter: “If you do not provide for me and the less fortunate, I will bring the wrath of the gods down upon you.”
The next morning Hapless, Helpless, and the community organizer awake to find the others gone. The community organizer snaps his fingers to return to the 21st century, but he is stuck in time. He, Hapless and Helpless become weaker and weaker and die.”
If we really had collectivist genes, at least one of the hundreds of idealistic experiments with voluntary redistribution – New Lanark, New Harmony, the Icarian Movement – would have survived, but they all went into Trotsky’s dustbin of history.
The great socialist experiments of the Soviet Union and Maoist China teach us that redistribution can only be imposed by force. People are unwilling to subordinate their own individual interests to the state’s conception of the “General Good” except at the point of a gun.
In our story, the community organizer would have been well fed if he had a gun rather than a cigarette lighter and the hunting ground was surrounded by an electrified fence. Hapless and Helpless would have thrived as his loyal supporters, but Thor and Gor would have brought back less game, and they all would have been hungry. Eventually, the Thors and Gors would find themselves in the minority as fewer and fewer went out to hunt.
Eventually, the pistol-toting community organizer could substitute the ballot box for his gun. He would have a majority vote to take from Thor and Gor for the common good. James Madison warned of this eventuality two hundred and twenty five year ago:
“Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice, and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” Federalist 10, 1787
Paul R. Gregory is a Research Fellow, Hoover Institution Cullen Professor of Economics, University of Houston. Gregory has a regular blog http://blogs.forbes.com/paulroderickgregory/at Forbes.com