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Jul 29, 2005 1:20 am

"I'd Push the Button"

Richard Ebeling, in the June 2005 issue of The Freeman, concurs with Leonard Read's"I'd Push The Button" essay published in April, 1946. This is a statement of quite a radical nature and is an important point to consider.
Read explained this in his Elements of Libertarian Leadership (and Murray Rothbard continued in "Why Be Libertarian?") thus:
Following World War II and prior to the relaxation of wartime wage and price controls, I made a speech entitled"I'd Push the Button." This title was taken from the first sentence,"If there were a button on this rostrum, the pressing of which would instantaneously release all wage and price controls, I'd put my finger on it and push."

This was regarded as a radical notion, radical in the sense of being so thoroughgoing that few persons shared it. However, if an act is morally wrong or economically unsound, the quicker it is abolished the better.

Many people seem to hold the view that the beneficiary of special privilege acquires a vested interest in his unique position and should not be deprived of it all of a sudden. They give little thought to the many persons from whom the plunder has been taken. It makes no difference what example of wage or price control one takes--rent control is as good as any. Under this control people have been permitted to occupy someone else's property at less than the free market would allow. By reason of this fact renters have been privileged to buy more tobacco or vacations, or some other good or service than would otherwise be the case. The landlord has been deprived of the fruits of his own labor. Yet, when it comes to the matter of restoring justice, most people will think of the disadvantages suddenly falling upon the renters rather than the accrued damage done to the owner.

Imagine a habitual and successful thief. For years he has been robbing everybody in the community without their knowledge. He has a fine home, cars, servants, and is a pillar of society. Upon discovering his fraud, should his robbery be diminished gradually or should justice be restored to the community at once? The answer appears too obvious to deserve further comment.

People, when contemplating the removal of authoritarianism, seem to fear that a sudden restoration of justice would too severely disrupt the economy. The fear is groundless. During the early days of our New Deal we were the victims of the NIRA, the National Industrial Recovery Act, a system of wage floors, price ceilings, and production quotas. Originally, it was accepted with enthusiasm by most of the business community. Slowly, the fallacy of this nefarious program was realized. Thoughtful business leaders agreed it had to be repealed. But, many of them argued that the repeal would have to be gradual. To remove it at once would throw the economy into a tailspin. Then, one afternoon the Supreme Court ruled that NIRA was unconstitutional. As of that moment all of its regulations and controls ceased to exist. Did this shake our economy? There wasn't a noticeable quiver except that all indices of prosperity showed improvement.

The fallacy of the theory of gradualism can be illustrated thus: A big, burly ruffian has me on my back, holding me down. My friends, observing my sad plight, agree that the ruffian must be removed. But, believing in the theory of gradualism, they contend that the ruffian must be removed gradually. They fail to see that the only result of the ruffian's removal would be my going to work suddenly!

There is nothing to fear by any nation of people in the removal of restrictions to creative and productive effort except the release of creative and productive effort. And why should they fear that which they so ardently desire?
Truly an important point to consider
Just a thought.
Just Ken
CLASSical Liberalism

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More Comments:

Kenneth R Gregg - 7/29/2005

Erhard was a courageous man for taking this step. Very unusual for a politician, but then, he was unique.
Just a thought.
Just Ken

Mark Brady - 7/29/2005

It was 1948, the same year as the currency reform. See, e.g., Henry C. Wallich's Mainsprings of the German Revival (Yale University Press, 1955).

Bill Woolsey - 7/29/2005

I would support immediately ending wage and price controls. It would be based on consequential analysis, not on the inherent justice of freedom of contract.

On the other hand, I wouldn't push the button immediately ending social security checks, much less abolishing the entire government figuring that the new institutions of anarcho-capitalism would rapidly arise to fill in any serious gap.

I have always thought the use of price ceilings (or floors) for button pushing (appropriate as it was when they exist,) for a more general--abolishing it all as a matter of justice, was inappropriate. I think we have a better idea of the consequences of ending price ceilings (prices rise to equilibrium, quantity supplied and demanded adjust ending surpluses or shortages) than the consequences of abolishing the entire government.

Sudha Shenoy - 7/29/2005

Erhard did exactly this in ?1946. He found the US Occupation authorities had forbidden him to change any single price control. But there was nothing forbidding him to abolish _all_ controls. So he abolished the lot -- on a Sunday when all the bureaucrats were at home. Within a day or two the shops were full of goods & the factories had started up again.