Eugenics and Other Evils

A review of EUGENICS AND OTHER EVILS An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized State by G.K. Chesterton. You can read it (and it will well reward your time) here.

G.K. Chesterston displays sparkling wit and trenchant insight into human nature in this as in his other writings: the man is charming.

He is a trenchant observer of the inevitable evil resulting from attempting to reorder human society by the arid theories of intellectuals, and a Jeremiah of the brutality and nastiness which results from a culture that allows for such monstrosities as eugenics produces; and I do not mean by breeding, I mean by the process that selects who shall organize the state, and have absolute power.

He is also an ignoramus of staggering proportion when it comes to basic matters concerning political economy. His criticism of the free market consists of a belief that the poor are wretchedly poor because the rich derive wealth from the poverty of the poor. Poverty exists because the rich, merely by wishing the poverty into existence, create it. Once the poor are wretchedly poor, only then will they be cowed enough to work in factories. Chesterton, with a straight face, announces that the poor who are moderately poor do not seek wages, and rich people do not seek to hire them.

He also thinks the rich could wish poverty out of being using the same magic power that they used to wish it into being, but that they selfishly refuse to use this power, because, if the poor were not wretched, the factories would find no employees, and the rich would be less rich. I am frankly baffled, in this analysis, what Chesterton thinks the factory owners do with manufactured goods once they are produced: if the rich had the power to wish wealth into being, would they not wish for wealthy customers to buy their goods? If no one buys the goods, what good are they?

Chesterton concludes his (ahem) ‘analysis’ by saying that the rich have unwisely ‘allowed’ the poor to multiply in great numbers, so that the overpopulation would increase the labor supply and drive down the height of wages: but they miscalculated in their villainy, and now they fear the numbers of the poor they way the Pharaoh feared the swelling ranks of the Hebrews. The Eugenics movement of the 1910’s was a plot by the wealthy to control the numbers of the poor, who, apparently, can magically raise population rates when it suits them, but not lower them again.

He also pauses to call the rich all the usual nasty names that writers blissfully ignorant of economics call them: parasites, robbers, flint-hearted sinners, etc. Apparently wealth merely exists as a given, appearing naturally for no cause and at no cost, like manna from heaven, but the rich (somehow) with their hoodoo magic have usurped all the wealth, so the manna meant for us falls only on them. This is the economic theory of a cargo-cultist.

Chesterton’s economic theory does not realize that the consumers, not the whim of the factory owner, sets the price of goods and the price of every factor of production, including the wages of labor.

His theory does not notice that the poor factory worker was mass-producing cheap goods for the poor, at prices they could afford, leading to the general rise of wealth and luxury of the nation. It is the capitalist, who invests, builds the factory, and creates the jobs. It is the capitalist who allows the poor shoeless man and the poor shoe-factory worker to make a mutually advantageous exchange.

If the rich man who built the factory were a thief, and hanged as other thieves are hanged, the victims that he robs would be the richer when he leaves off robbing them.

In reality, if the rich man does not invest, the factory is not built, and the poor man who wanted to buy shoes will go unshod and the poor man working in a shoe factory will go begging.

Read this book for its lucid prose and droll paradoxes in which Chesterton finds delight: but for an understanding of how the market system works and why it works, read HUMAN ACTION by Ludwig von Mises. (Which you can read here. If even one tenth part of the lessons of von Mises were heard and understood, nine tenths of the mischief of the modern world, including the evils of the so called scientifically planned state, would never arise.)