graphic representing capitalism
Graphic: Adobe Stock

By Austin Snedden, Ranching Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

I have been thinking about what we call our free society and trying to think of the things we can own outright. Start thinking of the things you “own,” and you will find that many of them you only own if you continue to pay a governmental toll. You will pay a toll in property tax for property or a home, or eventually not own it. You will pay a toll in income tax to hold and accumulate dollars. You can own a vehicle outright, but unless you want it to be a driveway paperweight, you will need to pay a toll in the form of registration, insurance, smog test, and gas tax on every gallon of fuel you put in it to use on public roads. The items we can own without paying an ongoing toll to the authorities are narrowed down rapidly to petty goods, animals, and food. (Keep in mind most of these are taxed at least once in the process. In a business situation, you will be asked to pay additional tolls in unsecured property taxes, inventory assessments, and capital gains if you choose to sell something.)  The countless tolls become a burden to capitalism and the expansion of wealth.

As I was looking for an old truck part, I was praising the virtues of capitalism because even though there are not a lot of these rigs around anymore, there is still a dollar or two to be made by producing these parts–a benefit to me as well as the seller. Capitalism done right is a beautiful thing, voluntarily satisfying both parties’ needs and desires through exchanging goods and services. Detractors of capitalism would claim that capitalism results in monopolies and oligopolies that eventually trample the rights of the worker and the little man. While a notion of this is true, monopolies and oligopolies cannot sustain without the government’s help. Government contracts fueled the Carnegie steel monopoly of the 1870s. The Rockefeller Standard Oil monopoly was built not on oil production but on lobbying efforts that allowed for imminent domain and crony capitalism to build the pipeline network. The oligopoly that we see in the meat packing industry today goes back to the early 1900s, built on preferential rail contracts and government-assisted placement of rails. The meat-packing oligopoly is sustained by the USDA and mountains of environmental, labor, and ambiguous food safety regulations that create barriers to entry for competitors. In a free society, when prices get too high or there are not enough options, the environment is ripe for competition, given there aren’t unrealistic government tolls and barriers.

Capitalism in a society with a standard agreement about human rights, personal freedoms, and property is a beautiful thing that creates wealth and innovation. Unfortunately, this system which has proven to be the best way to provide for humanity, can only be squashed by government tolls and regulations and government-ordained trade with countries that don’t share our common view of liberty. Private sector monopolies are unhealthy, but private sector monopolies not propped up by the government almost always collapse or contract. The government’s voracious appetite gobbles up more taxes and tolls while devouring more liberties and may be beyond the cure of capitalism. It will take an awakening of the voting populous. Hopefully, sooner rather than later.

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