In July of 1961, Yale University psychiatrist Stanley Milgram began an experiment that ended with shocking results—literally! It is now simply known as the Milgram Experiment—his most famous work.
Milgram was troubled with the excuses provided by Nazis in the wake of World War II for the atrocities they had committed. Obviously, they engaged in overly heinous acts toward their fellow man, so horrid in nature it makes one wonder how Hitler got his followers to do them. Yet their responses to the question of why were often the same; they were just following orders.
Milgram was skeptical that people would do something at the direction of an authority figure that they would not in good conscience do on their own. He devised an experiment whereby he would instruct participants to shock other participants they would never meet who were located behind a wall. The shocker was real but was unaware that the shockee was an actor. This actor would fain pain by screaming in agony, and the intent was to see if the shocker would continue to shock the shockee solely because an authority figure told them to, regardless of how dangerous or painful it seemed to be for the person on the other side.
The video below shows what happened. If you’ve never heard of this experiment before, check it out. It is certainly a fascinating study into the human psyche with very surprising results. His experiment showed people were willing to do horrific things to one another if an authority figure told them it was OK to do so, confirming the idea that many Nazis were indeed telling the truth about their motives.
As I think about this experiment, I can’t help but draw what I believe is a very exact parallel to modern-day tax policies.
There were potentially a number of reasons Obama and many Democrats scored victories in the last election, but there can be no doubt that class envy was one of the common motivating factors. The “tax the rich” mantra was a winning campaign strategy, but let’s think about it deeper.
Imagine I put a random democrat-voter currently receiving or requesting government assistance in front of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett and asked them to perform one simple task: look Bill or Warren in the eye and explain fairly and logically why you think they owe you something. I suspect most of them would be speechless and embarrassed, I know I would. But then again, I have a conscience and I am a libertarian.
Some may be brazen enough to look Gates and Buffett in the eye and argue that they’re simply too rich and have no right to all that money, but most would know there’s no rational argument to present and would simply accept that any effort to make such an argument would show that they were the ones being greedy by demanding what someone else had worked for, Bill and Warren are merely wanting to control what they’ve earned after all.
I specify “control” versus “keep” because they often donate a lot of their earnings to charities. But, when they give their money away, they choose instead of government choosing for them, who gets what they worked so hard for, and risked so much to obtain.
However, if voters can hide behind the wall of government just like Milgram’s participants hid behind a wall, and an authority figure like a politician tells them it’s OK to harm the wealthiest among us, the Milgram Experiment mentality takes over and people who wouldn’t have the gumption to demand the earnings of someone else in person all of a sudden wave the “tax the rich” banner like it’s part of their religion. If Obama says it’s OK, it must be, right?
What’s the solution? I don’t rightly know. But the first step in fixing a problem is understanding it. I don’t know that too many people have applied Milgram’s findings to politics, but there is no doubt in my mind that this an “apples to apples” comparison. The answer to how we get people to begin to grasp the concept that they are cowardly asking government to do something they would likely never have the hubris to ask for themselves is elusive, and likely always will be.
As someone with an extensive background in automotive repair, I can tell you there are two types of technicians: those who use science and logic to diagnose a car, and those who merely throw parts at it in hopes the condition goes away.
The former is efficient and precise while the other costs the car owner a lot of money in bad guesswork—rarely fixing anything other than occasionally by blind luck. This is also true of well-meaning politicians who think that throwing money at the non-rich (average income people like me, and the poor as well) will be the most efficient way to solve all our economic woes. They’ve racked up trillions of debt dollars; yet our economy is far from fixed.
One way to win an election is to promise people free money. Convincing the masses that government would be there in their time of need was Obama’s most effective election tactic.
It’s easy to understand why this campaign strategy works, just look at the abundance of people who play the lottery. The idea of something for nothing is alluring, but just as physics dictates you cannot create energy from nothing, free money is an equally ridiculous notion—it came from someone who earned it, not thin air, and not an endless well of cash in Washington.
Most reasonable people agree corporatism is immoral; good investment or not. But what about subsidies to the average and poor? As heartless as this may seem, throwing money at the non-rich is a horrible investment of our tax dollars; plus, it is also immoral. Just because I’m smiling as I steal from a “have” and give to a “have-not,” doesn’t magically make it something other than theft.
Many of us believe that if we were awarded a fortune, we would be on easy street forever. Yet, average people who win a substantial sum often end up filing for bankruptcy. Stories on this phenomenon are here, here, and here. This happens because the non-rich, as obvious as it should seem, are just not good at investing, budgeting, and maintaining wealth.
If you won the lottery, who would you want investment advice from? Steve Forbes or your uncle Sam who’s currently down $16 trillion on his E*Trade account but is patiently awaiting for those penny stocks to go crazy? I have news for you, Sam isn’t investing his money, he’s investing yours and mine. Can we please agree he should stop?
Most people who earn a 4 or 5-figure salary are simply not as motivated to be rich commensurate to those who went to college for 8 years and attained a degree they actually use, nor as courageous as those who took the plunge and invested their money into a business idea like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. They don’t bother reading books on investing, they don’t strive to get promotions at work, they spend more time partying than focusing on their career, and ultimately, they’re content being an average Joe whether they admit it or not.
Sacrificing all of one’s free time to grow a business or get a difficult degree requires a dedication few have. They don’t need to be pitied or pandered to by politicians who act as though making an average income means you’ve failed. Many people who are not rich, love their life as it is. It is disgusting for statist-like politicians to try to convince these people that they are being taken advantage of by the rich in order to solicit votes.
Obama would have you believe that the only difference between people like you and I versus Bill Gates and Warren Buffett is opportunity. As much as I’d like to believe that those business giants are no better than me, they just are. I’ve never had an idea as good as Microsoft Windows, and despite all of the educational trading information available to me, Warren Buffett has had bowel movements with better investment ideas than me.
The fact is, if we gave Warren Buffett one million dollars to start with today, based on his record, he’d likely double it in 5-7 years. If we gave the smelly young panhandler who lives on the streets because his parents “just don’t understand him” a million dollars, he’d likely be back on the street in less than a year with a bottle in a bag and some awesome party stories.
The plethora of self-made entrepreneurs in this country who started with nothing are proof that you can go from meager to millionaire if you do the right things; opportunity abounds here. But, America can’t guarantee happiness; we only guarantee the right to pursue it. No politician should endeavor to do anything more.
If the needy need help, their family, friends, local church, or some other community group will find a way, that’s what we did before social programs, and to some extent do today. If none of those people wish to help that person, then we need to have an honest discussion about why. By and large, good people help other good people. Bad people are properly shunned without assistance; as it should be.
Our forefathers never intended for the people to have a federal safety net. Liberty only exists when we allow people to succeed and to fail at their own hands. Gambling with our money (which is ultimately what investments/subsidies are) is wrong, no matter how well-intentioned. We are free-market capitalists, not statists—at least not yet.
So I love you Uncle Sam, but please understand what our forefathers (men who knew what tyranny was like, and worked so hard to prevent it) understood—you should protect our rights and our shores; then politely get the hell out of our way.
A quick explanation of the title: In order to put a stop to semantical nonsense, I specify Big Government Liberal (BGL) and Limited Government Conservative (LGC) so there is no doubt to whom I refer. Some Liberals have indeed championed limited government, and some conservatives have adopted causes that grow Uncle Sam’s estate.
Here are a few viewpoints about these two paradigms that I’d like to share that are rarely discussed:
BGL’s are lazy.
To represent my point, let’s start with Warren Buffett’s new mantra that he should be taxed more. We have a man who is clearly a genius that lives modestly compared to his net worth. A recent interview showed he drove an older used car and lives in a fairly small home relative to his income. He asks to be taxed more because he presumably hopes the government will use those extra tax dollars for good causes. Meanwhile, he is oblivious to the historical data that demonstrates the contrary.
I think it’s commendable when people give to charity; Bill Gates is a great example. But my apologies Mr. Buffett, government is NOT a charity. There are endless stories of government waste, fraud, and abuse. Unless he’s never watched a news program or read a newspaper, he certainly knows this! Why would someone knowingly give money to an organization with a reputation for waste and expect that money to be used properly for good? It’s like going on holiday and giving your alcoholic roommate the keys to your liquor cabinet for safe keeping.
The reason I say this is lazy is because Warren is a brilliant man. Can he not think of a job creating or problem solving idea on his own that he could invest his money in that will be far more effective than giving it to the government? Instead, he’s essentially offering to donate to a fiscal toilet bowl that has proven highly proficient at flushing money down the drain.
So I would politely ask Mr. Buffett to stop being lazy and either invest his money in a worthwhile endeavor of his own creation or give it to a reputable charity, but PLEASE stop trying to give it to Uncle Sam. Coming up with a business idea that he could start for $100 million would create a lot of jobs and, if run properly, would be self-sustaining. He wouldn’t have to pump money into it continuously like a charity. He could just start it, run it, and watch it grow, create jobs, and better our economy…AND if it makes a profit, he could donate those profits to charity if he doesn’t want them. But such an idea would require effort on his part. Instead, he just wants to write a check to the Fed and hope it works.
He should look to Bill and Linda Gates who employ a mountain of people and have a charitable foundation that they oversee to make sure it does what it is supposed to do. As a result, they do significantly more for the world than Warren Buffett ever will even though both have a respectable charitable mindset because, while Warren wants to take the lazy way out and give his wealth to the government, Bill Gates rolled up his sleeves, got to work, and solved many more problems all on his own.
BGL’s fight nature, LGC’s adhere to it.
We all should know that self preservation is not a learned behavior; it is instilled in every living creature in the animal kingdom and is evolutionarily beneficial to us all. Accidentally put your hand on a hot stove, and without conscious thought, you’ll remove it immediately. It’s because your brain will always force your body to do whatever it thinks it needs to do to prevent injury or death; it is nearly impossible to resist that instinct.
If you have ever flown on a commercial airline, you’ll remember the speech given every flight about the oxygen masks and how one should secure their own mask prior to attempting to help others such as your spouse or children. Even if you are altruistic and want to help others before you help yourself, the fact is that except for organ donors, you can’t help someone else if you’re dead. The best way to put yourself in position to help others is to make sure you are healthy FIRST.
LGC’s inherently understand these concepts. For instance, they know when they send their child off to school, not to give them a debit card from their bank account. They give him one that is linked to a separate account that they put a fixed sum into every month. Why? Because little Johnny is likely to spend $100 a night at the local club on wine, women, and song based on collegiate history. While the parents may trust their little angel, it’s still not a bad idea to avoid giving them the opportunity to drain the family bank account lest they all go down in financial ruin.
BGL’s however feel better about themselves if they get the government to bilk the wealthy out of their fortune because they are oblivious to the harm it does to these folks. They seem to think the wealthy are immune to going broke, and that no matter what they take from them, somehow they’ll never be poor. Of course we know many rich people in history have gone broke—usually as a result of misspent fortune. Many former professional athletes and musicians can surely attest. Contrary to BGL beliefs, wealthy people are not infinitely rich. There’s only so much money to be taken from these people. More often than not, this incessant desire to rob them of their fortune is born out of envy, not altruism.
So while BGL’s assume the LGC’s are just being greedy, it’s really just natural self preservation at work. There’s nothing wrong with that! The thing that infuriates me the most is that BGL’s are routinely just generous with other people’s money, Warren Buffett excluded. Look no further than Michael Moore, a self-professed socialist that believes rich people who live extravagantly should be stripped almost completely of their fortune, yet he resides in an approximately $2 million estate AND has a posh apartment in NYC. I’ll bet he rarely invites a homeless person to stay at either one.
LGC’s are the people of personal responsibility, BGL’s…not so much.
Many BGL social platforms seem to revolve around the notion that people who are downtrodden have been abused by the top 1%. This is simply not true. People with money are rich for four potential reasons.
A) They came up with a great idea, worked hard, brought it to fruition, and are reaping the benefits.
B) They won the lottery
C) Were born into A or B
D) They are engaged in criminal activity
While the legal system works hard to expose the nations pilferers, the fact is most wealthy individuals came about their fortunes quite legally. I’m all for liquidating every single asset from the criminal classes, but BGL’s act as though the A’s, B’s, C’s, and D’s are one in the same. The entrepreneurs of this great nation worked hard, invested a lot of time, money, and effort into what they did, and they’re responsible for their success. For BGL’s to think that somehow they have a right to force these folks to give up their wealth for things like Solyndra, Fannie/Freddie, GM and Chrysler, saving the whales, foreign aid for countries that don’t even like us, or any other avenue that the government gives tax dollars to defies all that is just. It’s their money. They should have the absolute right to spend it or give it away as they see fit.
While I am certainly aware that there are people who are unsuccessful, often through little or no fault of their own, the fact is that people who are poor are often a product of their own lack of personal responsibility, motivation, or personality. The wealthy had nothing to do with the poor’s condition. People talk so often about big corporations like Walmart destroying small businesses, but Walmart, like almost every other corporation, started out as a small business itself. Small businesses fail—not because of the rich–but because of poor business models, products, or leadership. We’ve all worked with someone who constantly shows up late for work if they show up at all. When they do show up, they have a bad attitude, they put in a mediocre effort, they complain about every aspect of the company, and when they don’t get the promotion they wanted, they act as if somehow it’s not their fault.
America is flush with success stories where someone with nothing achieved greatness. So I’m not buying the notion for one second that success is only available to the upper class because there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence to refute that argument. Herman Cain was right to tell people that if they are not successful, look in the mirror. More often than not, the biggest hurdle is staring back at them.
So the class warfare blame game is the ultimate display of a lack of personal responsibility, and it’s time honest hard working Americans said, “Enough!” I’m responsible for my success, YOU are responsible for yours. May the best person win!
log·i·cal: capable of reasoning or of using reason in an orderly cogent fashion lib·er·tar·i·an: an advocate of the doctrine of free will; a person who upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action