Shoots from the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii – Jan. 7, 2004-Something for Nothing

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What do the proposed heavy rail project for Oahu, the proposed BRT, TheBus, the On the Beach functions, the proposal to turn Young Street into a bikeway and social programs such as welfare all have in common? They all consist of taking money and resources from the majority to benefit a relative few. In the words of the French economic philosopher Frederic Bastiat, The few plunder the many.

Every bus ride is a losing proposition and must be paid for by government subsidy. What this means is that the rider, to some degree or another, is getting something for nothing. The greater the loss, the greater the subsidy. So during the discussions last summer about raising the bus fare, when the seniors complained about the increase in their passes and fares, what they were really saying is they objected to not receiving the same level of something for nothing. They wanted welfare for seniors.


The same is true for the fixed rail project and the Young Street bikeway The numbers of people that would benefit from these projects, even if usage is at maximum from day one, can only be a small fraction of the total population, a small fraction of the commuting population, and can never be fully paid for by those that benefit from that usage. Thus the advocacy of such projects is really an advocacy of something for nothing. It is welfare for certain commuters.

The same is also true of those who laud the On the Beach functions promoted by the city. From letters to the editors lauding these events by those that attend praising the free movies, to the local merchants that claim to reap the rewards of increased commerce because of brunches held in downtown Waikiki, the central issue is that some are benefiting from public moneys while others are not. Of course, those that benefit from these something for nothing functions want such programs to continue. And this is the case for all those that support such programs. It is welfare for movie goers and retail businesses.

The real question is how this system continues. There is only one word that explains it: monopoly. The government maintains a monopoly in a number of areas, like TheBus, that would never be permitted in the private sector. This is the only way that the system of providing something for nothing can remain in place. And even be lauded by some. If it took place anywhere else, by anyone else other than government, it would be castigated. Only government monopolies are considered successes. It is welfare for the lucky few.

Nowhere is this more clear than with TheBus. The jitney system in this nation was outlawed, not because there was anything wrong with it, but because ”it was too successful.” The then private bus companies prevailed upon the then legislators to outlaw jitneys and eliminate the competition. This situation remains today and is the only reason there isn’t a truly competitive, viable alternative to public rapid transit. It is forbidden by law. It is a matter of government mandated monopoly. Thus it is welfare for bus riders.

This is the price required for mandating something for nothing for the benefit of a few. Government must create an exclusive monopoly that prevents private enterprise from competing with it. In the final analysis this is always the least efficient, least cost effective solution, which is why it requires a subsidy. It ultimately costs everyone more than the benefit gained by the few. The damage done to the overall economy by the taxes required to fund and maintain the monopoly is always greater than the benefit enjoyed by the minority that receives that benefit. Without the taxes needed to fund such programs the economy would be that much stronger and that many more people would be employed. And wages would be that much higher. And the need for the subsidy would disappear.

When a business person seeks to expand his or her business in ever increasing measure to increase profits and make ever larger amounts of money, this is termed, greed. But we have no word for those who would use government plunder to seek a benefit garnered by the effort of others and thereby receive something for nothing. Isn’t that strange?

Ayn Rand called such people moochers and I suppose that term will suffice. For myself, I would rather redefine the meaning of the word, greed to apply to those who desire to get something for nothing, to receive a greater value than what they have earned or paid. This is the one thing that all who advocate such programs have in common. They want something for nothing, and this should be the real meaning of the word greed.

”’Don Newman, senior policy analyst for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Hawaii’s first and only free market public policy institute focused on individual freedom and liberty, can be reached at:”’

”’This editorial is intended to provoke thought, discussion and an examination of issues. It does not reflect official policy of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.”’

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