Shoot the homeless!

Ron Garret just posted what he thinks is his rebuke to Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson. I reproduce here my reply.

The strong words are a rhetorical ploy. I use it because I think that looking at the problem from this harsh point of view puts things into perspective. I wouldn't actually shoot people. I'm too wishy-washy and teary-eyed for that.

Rather, I believe in empathy; but I also believe in its counterpart. It's important to know when a situation calls for empathy and when it calls for no mercy. The unfortunate fact is that many don't. This is a source of suffering.

So here's my response, as addressed to Ron.

Hazlitt is right: "But the solution is never to reduce supplies arbitrarily, to prevent further inventions or discoveries, or to support people for continuing to perform a service that has lost its value."

I'll answer your question: "Really? Why not?"

  • To reduce supplies arbitrarily is to do damage: it is to throw away good work that was already done, to deny the benefit of this work to the population, to make everyone a bit worse off, to prevent progress.
  • To prevent further inventions or discoveries is to do damage on such a scale that it is difficult to even comprehend. This cuts off all of the possible futures in which the human condition could be vastly improved through technological progress, to replace them only with those possible futures that make use of no new inventions and discoveries, which is to replace them with status quo, which is to perpetuate human suffering. This is evil.
  • To support people for continuing to perform a service that has lost its value is to place these people on a dead-end track, to make their lives pointless, it is to give up on their potential. It is stupid because resources are being expended to provide an unnecessary service, and it is tragic because the potential of these people is being wasted.
Note that Hazlitt is not arguing that nothing should be done to help these people. Unless he writes that somewhere else in his book, in a part which you did not quote, it is you who is beating the straw man. I can suggest a number of ways to improve such people's lives which are consistent with Hazzlit's paragraph you attacked:
  • One is to pay such people to do nothing. Retirement comes early. No resources have to be wasted performing an unnecessary task, and the people can spend their time doing something else that actually makes their lives fulfilling.
  • Another is to pay for such people to be trained to do something else. This is better than early retirement in that their potential is not wasted. I think most tax money is wasted, but education and research are fields where more spending on good programmes is always a good investment.
Finally, I know that you're too wishy-washy, teary-eyed, soft-hearted and in general not man enough to agree :) but I still think that the best solution to solve poverty in the long term would be to simply shoot everyone who cannot sponsor their own living nor find a kind sponsor who would. People in general have a tendency not to plan and think about the future. Shooting a few hopeless cases for the results of their poor planning would really set a good example and motivation for everyone to take good care of themselves, and it's hardly likely you'd see many more beggars and homeless people around in a few years. If it is made public policy that everyone needs to take responsibility for themselves "or else", then you'd see that everyone would.

It wouldn't even be necessary to do the shooting if there were not as many suckers like you who get all teary-eyed about people playing victims, refusing to see how this role is usually a choice more so than an externally imposed situation.


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