By taking no action I’ve taken no action

Article by Cal Nogov on May 23, 2016


In other words, inaction is not an action.  This seems like a simple concept, yet I’m faced with people trying to argue the opposite almost daily.

I’ll start with the metaphor, then show the arguments people try to make, and then show how it affects freedom and prosperity.

A man is drowning in a lake.  I’m on the shore watching this man drown.  No one else is around.  If I take no action to save the man have I caused or contributed to his drowning?  No.  Nothing that I have done has contributed to this man’s drowning.

In order to test that we simply take me out of the scenario.  If I, nor anyone else is around, does the man still drown.  Yes.  My having knowledge and possibly the means to save the man, but don’t, doesn’t change anything about the man’s situation.  I am not the cause or the contributor.

The only action I could have taken was to attempt to save the man.  Should I have.  Maybe, maybe not, there are many factors.  Can I swim?  Does it put my life in danger too?  Is the man a murderer?  Should I risk my life to save a murderers life?  etc.

What if there were two men drowning and I dove in and saved one, but not the other.  Have I sacrificed one man to save the other.  No.  The only action I took was rescuing one man.  The other man, I did not cause or contribute to his drowning.

The only way I could be responsible for the drowning men in these scenarios is if I had done something to put them in their predicament, such as kicking them into the water or taking action to prevent them from helping themselves or prevent others from helping.

You are only responsible for your actions, not your inactions when it comes to other people.

Here are the arguments I get:  There’s a starving man and you have a whole warehouse full of food, but don’t give him any.  You’ve contributed or are partly responsible for his starving to death.

I’m not, for the same reason I was not responsible for the drowning man.  I am not the cause of this starving man’s situation.  I could help him.  Should I?  Maybe, maybe not.

Another argument goes:  By not voting, you’re contributing to scumbag politician X getting elected by not voting for scumbag politician Z.

Once again, No I’m not.  I have done nothing.  I am only responsible for my actions, not inactions.  The voters are taking action.  The politicians are taking action.  They are responsible for their actions.  I am not responsible for the actions they take.

This reverse logic argument that I am somehow responsible for things I don’t do to other people is a basis for justification of the welfare state.  Because I have saved money or food, it is now my responsibility to take care of others, and if I don’t do it willingly, it will be done by force through government.

How does this affect prosperity?

When a man is able to keep all that he produces without a portion of his income or savings being confiscated, he has the natural incentive to accumulate wealth.  He saves for retirement so he doesn’t have to work until his dying day and people don’t need to take care of him when he’s older.  He’s prepared for emergencies.  He’s prepared to assist friends and family who are in need.  He has the means to be charitable if the situation warrants it.

Not only is one man doing this, but all of those around him.  The general wealth and prosperity for everyone is rising.  Sometimes fast sometimes slow, but it’s rising.

The socialist models that advocate taking a man’s production by force to help others also has an incentive.  A very destructive incentive.  If a man believes his savings will be confiscated he will stop saving.  He is incentivized to consume all that he produces immediately so that it will not be taken from him.  He adopts the ‘live for today’ attitude.  He will also be incentivized to stop producing at all because he is given the product of other’s labor.  The ‘why should I bother’ attitude.

If a man does save, he will hide that savings for fear of confiscation.  That savings can no longer be used for productive purposes such as business investment or new productive equipment.

The incentive creates a downward spiral into poverty.  Sometimes it’s fast.  Sometimes it’s slow.  Venezuela is just the lastest example of socialism hitting its inevitable bottom.

The outward promise of ‘all for one and one for all’ of socialism in reality becomes the ‘every man for himself’ that people so often try to associate with capitalism.




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