Freeloaders
Walter E. Williams, March 3, 1997

John Stossel's ABC special "Freeloaders" which aired last week showed just how far we've come to being a nation of parasites. It featured people (thieves) who'd go to a restaurant, eat half their meal, and then place an insect in the remaining food in order to get the meal without charge. Stossel interviewed bums holding signs "Will work for food", who refused any job offered. Rich sports team owners used politicians to gouge taxpayers for subsidized stadiums. Then there was the king of corporate parasites, Dwayne Andreas, CEO of Archer-Daniel Midlands (ADM), the so-called supermarket of the world.

There have always been parasites and thieves; but let me speculate on why so many otherwise decent and honest Americans are caught up in an attempt to live at the expense of others.

Mrs. Williams and I paid tens of thousands of dollars in taxes last year. We know some people who paid less than $3,000. Our question is: what did we get from government that others who paid much less didn't get? We figure nothing. What's more, Congress gave most of our tax money to other Americans who didn't earn it. We didn't have to take this lying down. We could have tried to recoup some of our money by getting a federal grant to pay our daughter's college tuition, organize our neighbors to get a HUD grant to build a tennis court nearby or get some other middle class handout.

We did none of that; however, not all people accept tax-gouging lying down. When legalized theft begins, it pays for everybody to get in on the action. Those who don't are left holding the bag.

Another part of Stossel's show featured taxpayer money sponsoring McDonald's and Campbell Soup's overseas advertisements. In that case, I could make myself whole and avoid using Congress as a middleman. On my next McDonald visit, I could pay for one soda and drink two. Or, I could eat most of my hamburger and put a bug in the other part and demand my money back. You say, "Williams, that's dishonest!" I ask, "Is it dishonesty when you try to recoup what was stolen, even if it was stolen legally?"

The most outrageous show segment featured ADM's CEO, Dwayne Andreas, who's given politicians millions of dollars to help him enrich himself at our expense. For that money congressmen voted to restrict sugar imports that in turn drove up sugar prices. Higher sugar prices benefit ADM who produces corn syrup which is a sugar substitute. When sugar prices are high, sugar users (soda, candy and food processors) turn to corn syrup as a sweetener and we pay higher food prices. ADM also manufactures 50 percent of the nation's gasohol, a grain-based gasoline additive. Led by former Senator Bob Dole, ADM's man in Washington, Congress changed the tax code to give write-offs to oil companies who add gasohol to their product, further enriching ADM.

What we saw on "Freeloaders" was morally wrong and has devastating implications for liberty. No one has the right to take or receive what someone else has earned unless that someone gives it to them. After all if one American is "entitled" to live at the expense of another or receive a special privilege, what principle of justice allows us to deny those entitlements, and special privileges to other Americans?

It's tempting to blame politicians for turning us into a nation of thieves, but you'd be wrong. Politicians are just the pimps trying to make a sale; you and I are their anxious customers.

Walter E. Williams

March 3, 1997

Return to Dr. Williams' home page
Economics Department Home Page