It is not from the malevolence of the taxman, the regulator, or the central banker that we expect to lose our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest and the inevitable produce of their institutions. The most well-intentioned worker at a cheese factory, if he does his job conscientiously, will produce cheese; if he is not one of Madison’s angels, he might even be tempted to smuggle a bit of cheese home to his family. Bureaucrats are no better or worse than your average cheese monger, except possibly for the fact that the fromager won’t insist, day after day, that he is in the ice cream business all the while handing you Gouda in a waffle cone (and taking his fee from directly from your paycheck). Not only was Ben morally off-base with his schemes to forcibly transform society for the better, he would never be able to accomplish his goals with the tools he chose to use; he was feeding cheese to the lactose intolerant, calling it steak, and had everyone involved convinced it was just what they needed.
But now he had a new problem – he was unable to afford all of his schemes to save his fellow man. Trying to monitor every business in town had become too time consuming (he was considering allowing them to license themselves, for a fee); he had had to quit his idea of printing when he ran out of ink before he could copy the reverse side of any of his phony bills; and he had discovered that prosecuting firms in anti-trust lawsuits wasn’t free – the lawyers wanted to get paid for performing a public service! His frustration encouraged me, though, because I felt he was about to make a breakthrough and discover some basic truths of economics, of life: people trade value for value. If you are going broke trying to improve others’ lives, there is a good chance they don’t see it as an improvement. And now that he was broke, perhaps he might, mercifully, stop trying to help. I told him so.
“Let’s give all this a rest. I know you mean well, but isn’t it just too costly to keep this up? You’re broke, Ben.”
“I’m not broke,” he replied, “I’m just suffering a liquidity crunch. I’ll be back to work in no time. Now, where’s that credit application I got in the mail today? If I can just increase my credit limit…”
“Credit?!” I exclaimed. “Aren’t there agencies whose reputations will suffer if they rate you was creditworthy?” Then I thought about the ratings agencies and their status as licensed agents of the State. “You’ve never even had a job, who would extend you credit?” Then my mind flashed back to his homemade printing press, and I thought of the real printing presses (and keyboards) that were at work right now. “Hasn’t competition culled any bank foolish enough to lend you money?!” Then I thought about the giant banking cartel, the Federal Reserve System, which assured that no banks could fail as long as they made enough bad loans and shared the commissions. I began to wonder if it was possible that I was the insane one in this conversation.
* * *
Ben went on to follow in his older brother Alan’s footsteps and became Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. His brother’s evolution from his youthful free-market ideas to the more serious ideology of the State – policy prescriptions and proscriptions for the polity– had shown him the light. Whereas his older brother Alan had left an embarrassing trail of evidence, Ben would be steadfast in his beliefs and actions. Though the journey was different they would ultimately both end up in the same place, pulling the same levers, and selling the same old cheese.
 Again, with apologies to Adam Smith. “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”
 “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
 The quotes from “Alan” in this story are all from articles he wrote which were published in Ayn Rand’s Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.
Photo credit: Mike Theiler/EPA via Sipa Press File