By Dan Sanchez – reprinted with permission from the author
In one episode of The Simpsons, an invasive species of lizard is introduced into Springfield. By the end of the episode, the lizards are embraced by the city government, because they eat the hated local pigeons. This leads to the following exchange between Principal Skinner and Lisa Simpson:
SKINNER - Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.
LISA - But isn’t that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we’re overrun by lizards?
SKINNER - No problem. We simply unleash wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They’ll wipe out the lizards.
LISA - But aren’t the snakes even worse?
SKINNER - Yes, but we’re prepared for that. We’ve lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.
LISA - But then we’re stuck with gorillas!
SKINNER - No, that’s the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.
This is reminiscent of the nursery rhyme about the old lady who first swallowed a fly, and then a series of creatures of escalating size—each creature swallowed in order to catch the previous creature— until she died.
Toward the Total Planning State
It is also a nice illustration of Ludwig von Mises’s insight concerning the compounding tendency that all government interventions into the market have, and which makes for a vicious spiral toward socialism. In Human Action, Mises wrote:
All varieties of interference with the market phenomena not only fail to achieve the ends aimed at by their authors and supporters, but bring about a state of affairs which—from the point of view of their authors’ and advocates’ valuations—is less desirable than the previous state of affairs which they were designed to alter. If one wants to correct their manifest unsuitableness and preposterousness by supplementing the first acts of intervention with more and more of such acts, one must go farther and farther until the market economy has been entirely destroyed and socialism has been substituted for it.
In a brilliant bit of economic reasoning in his classic essay “Middle-of-the-Road Policy Leads to Socialism,” Mises showed how even such a seemingly-minor intervention as a price ceiling on milk would inevitably lead to full-blown socialism, if the government pursued it to the bitter end, and if it undertook further interventions to try to deal with all of its negative consequences, as well as the negative consequences of those and all subsequent interventions. Thus, Mises called interventionism “a method for the realization of socialism by installments;” or, as we would say, “socialism on an installment plan.”
However, this vicious cycle is not only to be seen with economic interventions. It is to be seen with any violation of property rights, including the right of self-ownership. This is because the libertarian property order is the ideal pattern of resource control for allies in the eternal war on scarcity. Any violation of this order necessarily leads to breakdowns in the civilizing division of labor, incompatible pursuits, and escalating, irreconcilable conflicts.