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Starving Amidst Plenty

There are two types of societies, production societies and rationing societies. The production society is concerned with taking more territory, exploiting that territory to the best of its ability and then discovering new techniques for producing even more. The rationing society is concerned with consolidating control over all existing resources and rationing them out to the people.

The production society values innovation because it is the only means of sustaining its forward momentum. If the production society ceases to be innovative, it will collapse and default to a rationing society. The rationing society however is threatened by innovation because innovation threatens its control over production.

Socialist or capitalist monopolies lead to rationing societies where production is restrained and innovation is discouraged. The difference between the two is that a capitalist monopoly can be overcome. A socialist monopoly however is insurmountable because it carries with it the full weight of the authorities and the ideology that is inculcated into every man, woman and child in the country.

We have become a rationing society. Our industries and our people are literally starving in the midst of plenty. Farmers are kept from farming, factories are kept from producing and businessmen are kept from creating new companies and jobs. This is done in the name of a variety of moral arguments, ranging from caring for the less fortunate to saving the planet. But rhetoric is only the lubricant of power. The real goal of power is always power. Consolidating production allows for total control through the moral argument of rationing, whether through resource redistribution or cap and trade.

The politicians of a rationing society may blather on endlessly about increasing production, but it's so much noise, whether it's a Soviet Five Year Plan or an Obama State of the Union Address. When they talk about innovation and production, what they mean is the planned production and innovation that they have decided should happen on their schedule. And that never works.

You can ration production, but that's just another word for poverty. You can't ration innovation, which is why the aggressive attempts to put low mileage cars on the road have failed. As the Soviet Union discovered, you can have rationing or innovation, but you can't have both at the same time. The total control exerted by a monolithic entity, whether governmental or commercial, does not mix well with innovation.

The rationing society is a poverty generator because not only does it discourage growth, its rationing mechanisms impoverish existing production with massive overhead. The process of rationing existing production requires a bureaucracy for planning, collecting and distributing that production that begins at a ratio of the production and then increases without regard to the limitations of that production.

Paradoxically the rationing infrastructure increases in direct proportion to the falloff of production as lower production requires even greater rationing. This is what we are seeing now in the United States, in a weak economy, there is greater justification for the expansion of rationing mechanisms. And the worse the economy becomes, the bigger government will become to "compensate" for the problems of the economy.

In a production society, the role of government is to expand the territories of exploitation and to protect those territories. In a rationing society, the role of government is to control the available quantities of production with a view to distributing them fairly. Naturally, the rationers, as always, get the best rations. In a production society, government is a means of protecting everyone's ability to produce. In a rationing society, government prevents the bigger from grabbing the rations of the smaller and protects everyone from grabbing all the rations at once and starving to death.

The sort of society we have is fit for passengers adrift at sea on a lifeboat parceling out their last crackers. It is an emergency society for the lost and the starving. And perversely we are starving amidst plenty.

The rationing society discourages people from farming and encourages them to peer in each other's mouths to see who is eating more than his fair share. In the rationing society everyone is certain that they are not getting their fair share and eager to sign on to initiatives to get their group's fair share. In a rationing society everyone is an informer because everyone's livelihood depends on informing on others.

In a production society, people compete for production. In a rationing society, people compete for entitlements. Everyone is always bitter and suspicious in a rationing society, and when they aren't, they're resigned and phlegmatic. They either accept that life is unfair or they rave against it. They are either jealous or give up on material things entirely making their society into a comprehensive failure.

I met a man once who told me that his greatest dream was to be feasting at a full table while outside hungry people pass by and look longingly through the window. This is the type of mindset that a rationing society produces. Its denizens instinctively absorb the idea that resources are finite and their competitiveness takes place at a zero sum level that is incomprehensible in any open society.

In a rationing society, people are certain that if another has something, then he came by it unfairly. And every group has an exaggerated sense of the material prosperity of other groups. This is not a bug, it is a feature. The rationing society deliberately cultivates a sense of unfairness to make it clear that individual efforts are meaningless and the only thing that matters is one's connections to the rationers and the degree of mutual support from the group for the rationers and the rationers for the group.

Individual initiative is discouraged by a web of bureaucracy to make it difficult for individuals to act outside the plan. In a monopolistic system, rules and permits make it difficult for the individual to move forward. The permit regime also promotes corruption which makes honest enterprise almost impossible. Through these means the system restrains the micro, which is ordinarily too small to be properly controlled, while focusing on the macro.

The rationing of present day America, which has the resources, the wealth and the techniques to produce, is being managed in political terms. The politicians still talk in terms of innovation and production, even while enacting policies meant to discourage both. The dominant political class has been dedicated to one form of rationing or another throughout the 20th Century. The only difference between them is the degree of radicalism and their understanding that the rationing is a transition, rather than a safety net or an emergency measure.

When you listen to the larger message of the left, it is one of finity. We have a finite amount of planetary resources and domestic wealth. This finity represents a global and national crisis that has to be tackled with rationing mechanisms. We are all on a lifeboat and some of us are gobbling up more than their fair share of rations. Unless the rationers step forward, seize everyone's rations and pass out limited rations, then we are all doomed.

The essential 21st Century conflict is between the rationers and the producers. This is not a class conflict, that is the fallacy that the left has fallen into for over a century. It is a conflict between a system of bureaucratic collectivism and a society of individuals. It is not a conflict between the rich and the poor, the majority of the rationers are either rich or close enough to it. Their charges may be poor, but the representatives of their victim groups invariably become rich. The rationer camp is funded by some of the wealthiest men and companies in America who agree with its premise that we need to ration everything from children to jobs to food to carbon emissions.

This is a fundamental philosophical conflict between those who believe in a free society and those who believe in a managed society. It is not simply a conflict between capitalism and socialism, many of the capitalists are on the side of the rationers because they agree with them or profit from the rationing. It is a conflict that predates the American Revolution, a conflict that became inevitable with the rise of the supercity and the closing of the frontier.

This is a struggle between those who believe that people should be managed and those who believe that people should manage themselves. Our institutions now depend on a class of managers who fill the ranks of the institutions of the public and private sector, who produce little, but whose goal is to make production completely predictable. And we are, in short, being managed to death.

Scientific management, rather than predicting human variables, has done its best to make everything predictable, and a perfectly predictable thing is static. It has no ability to move forward. The drive to make the behavior of people predictable has led to the institutionalism of every aspect of life. And that has led to rationing programs that depend on predictability, and when that predictability fails,respond with greater efforts at control.

A production society defines achievement in terms of production. A rationing society defines it in terms of control. In a rationing society, it is possible to starve amidst plenty because the rationers would rather see people starve, than lose control over them.


  1. Anonymous27/8/12

    Are those F-4's? I though maybe they were PV-2's but it is hard to tell with no wing. Plus I'm an old man and while the eyes are as beady as every, they don't work like they used to.
    Excellent analysis. Socialism has changed radically (how else) since the word was coined in the mid 19th century. As has capitalism. I'm thinking that there are no pure 'isms' left. It is awkward to say some country is 60% capitalist, 20% socialist and 20% fascist. If I may, I will use production and rationing in the future.

    Charlie don't surf.

  2. Anonymous27/8/12

    There are people who require rationing. Some people refuse to work, or rather work very hard at being disabled and dependent. They will quickly exhaust all the available produce as they have little appreciation for production. What do you propose to do with such folks in a production society? Right now, I estimate half of the American population fits into this category.

    1. Anonymous27/8/12

      Ever hear of survival of the fittest?????

  3. Anonymous27/8/12

    DP111 wrote..

    It has been noticed by the "rationers", that employed work has beneficial effects on the individual, both psychological and physical. Therefore, employed work will be rationed in the future.


    The PJ Tatler has obtained documents from the Justice Department detailing efforts to recruit attorneys and staff who are dwarfs or who have “psychiatric disabilities” or “severe intellectual disabilities.” On May 31, 2012, Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez issued a directive to affirmatively recruit people with these “targeted disabilities.”


  4. "This is a struggle between those who believe that people should be managed and those who believe that people should manage themselves."

    “Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties:
    1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes.
    2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interests.
    In every country these two parties exist, and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves.” –Thomas Jefferson to Henry Lee, 1824.

  5. Friday27/8/12

    "To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them." Henry Lee to Thomas Jefferson

  6. Anonymous27/8/12

    To learn who rules over you, simply find out whom you are not allowed to criticize.

  7. Daniel:

    What you might have done is present a précis of Ayn Rand's dystopian novel, Anthem. In a society reduced to manual labor and subsistence existence, and whose top achievement is the invention of the candle, one man invents the light bulb. This is his reception when he offers it to the government (personal pronouns such as "I" have been banished, except for collective pronouns). The relevant text is here:

    "Should it be what they claim of it," said Harmony 9-2642, then it would bring ruin to the Department of Candles. The Candle is a great boon to mankind, as approved by all men. Therefore it cannot be destroyed by the whim of one."

    "This would wreck the Plans of the World Council," said Unanimity 2-9913, "and without the Plans of the World Council the sun cannot rise. It took fifty years to secure the approval of all the Councils for the Candle, and to decide upon the number needed, and to re-fit the Plans so as to make candles instead of torches. This touched upon thousands and thousands of men working in scores of States. We cannot alter the Plans again so soon."

    "And if this should lighten the toil of men," said Similarity 5-0306, "then it is a great evil, for men have no cause to exist save in toiling for other men."

    Then Collective 0-0009 rose and pointed at our box. "This thing," they said, "must be destroyed."

    This is in Chapter 7.

    The society in which the hero (who escapes with his light bulb) is a rationing society.


  8. To correct my last sentence: The society in which the hero lives (who escapes it with his light bulb) is a rationing society.

    Daniel: This is another excellent essay. But it was so on point with Anthem that I couldn't help but excerpt the relevant dialogue from Rand's novel.

  9. Yes I think it fits excellently.

  10. Let us not forget our Friederich Hayek. Any civil society, that is a fully functioning (producers) society, should have and almost requires that it have safety net provisions for the systemically misfortunate/marginalized, as a matter of ethic, expediency, and pragmatism. To posess that societal feature (quite incorrectly "owned" by the Left) and retain a productive society are not mutually exclusive. The exclusion occurs on the flip side of that coin. The fully rationing society (to once again borrow Greenfield's coinage) cannot insist upon its preeminence at the tasks of creating/mandating/managing/distributing/guaranteeing the safety net provisions and wealth transfer programs without always-already first excluding or at the least dulling the impulses and actions and the collective mindset that make the productive society so peculiarly productive. In short, it is not hypocrisy to want and achieve both ends, if you first organize society with a mind toward individual sovereignty as opposed to collective well-being.

  11. Above comment was a response to Anonymous #2.

  12. Tom Rankin27/8/12

    Oh God now we have to count the comments to know whos who?
    Good post but Rand beat you to it.

  13. Anonymous is concerned about the welfare of the free-loaders. But they are only free-loaders because of that welfare, which in the hands of rationers is the incidious opiate used to enslave ever more.

  14. Joseph27/8/12

    Ebony who are you to call anyone a free loader?

  15. Joseph, Anonymous was making the charge that there are some who refuse to work and other who work hard at being disabled and depentent - I chose to call them free-loaders, but it was obvious that Anonymous was singling out those who game the system. I focused on the same group and stated my belief that it is the wanton politicalization of the welfare system that allows free-loaders to game the system and breeds continues to breed more free-loaders.

    To be clear - the free-loaders are a separate group than those who really need assistance. I believe the vast majority of the American people, including myself, are happy to contribute to help those in real need - which is quite different than contributing to a system that allows people to be lazy and knowingly cheat the system.

  16. Anonymous28/8/12

    It seems the republican poobah are a rationing society trying to throw off the ladder to the ranks of climbers. Lars

  17. Brennan30/8/12

    Lars, are you saying elephants are throwing a ladder to the ranks of the climbers, or kicking it away? Your tone seems to imply the latter. Perhaps you think this was a Republican-supporting screed--I disagree.

    The author made clear that at least at the Federal level, most Republicans (as well as most Democrats), being part of the "dominant political class," have been complicit in advancing bureaucratic barriers to innovation and individual sovereignty. The difference in culpability is merely one of degree.

    Hope this helps!

  18. Brennan30/8/12

    Excellent analysis. I've read tangential studies of shame societies vs guilt societies that were enlightening, but not one that's dealt with the economic impact of the societal attitude that permeates a people based upon what perhaps boils down to their sense of optimism.

    I'm left with trying to understand the mindset of those who would still think a rationing society would be a good thing. I'm not speaking of the rationers, of course, as their support for a rationing society is self-evident. Rather, I'm thinking of those trapped within the penumbra of rationing, who view it as the natural and right way of being.

    This is difficult to analyze, as normally one assumes people will act rationally (no pun intended). However, the term "rational actors" is too vague, as it assumes all people approach a given issue from the same perspective--this is rarely the case. So to understand the perspective of those who, to themselves, rationally support a rationing society, we have to delve into what they deem important. And here's where I get to my frustration with those who support a rationing society.

    At the risk of becoming too long-winded (too late!), I look to history. For centuries, societies have been beset by self-appointed Wizards of Smart who were convinced that human productive capacity had reached its peak. Malthus is a prime example. Yet here we are, with more proven oil reserves than ever, nanotechnology set to revolutionize computing, medicine and manufacturing, as well as transportation and communication capabilities unheard of a mere 50 years ago.

    Every time the nattering nabobs of negativity claim the sky is falling, they have been proven wrong by the innovations that increase our ability to meet human needs. What makes the current crop of Chicken Littles so much smarter than their forebears who were proven wrong? Every neo-Luddite today will, I predict be proven wrong in the next 50 years. Unfortunately, there will be others to replace them 50 years hence. They'll also be wrong.

  19. golfguy1/9/12

    Great article! You now see the manifestation of the revolt against the rationers in the U.S. Talk today is of self-reliance and the rationing of one's own enterprises so as to be able to survive the inevitable collapse that all rationing elites bring on to all societies throughout history. It is now dawning on more people who have unhooked from the paradigm of media propoganda that their own productivity is being siphoned away to keep these elected elites in power. Going galt by just a few % of the population at this time will bring the whole system down and the rationers know it.
    When the end comes as it surely will and always has, it will leave the least productive in our society in a very vulnerable state. Their laziness will be their undoing and no matter of money printing will feed them if they have no means of confiscating someone else's work.


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