A Sign of the Times
SEPTEMBER 01, 1964 by JESS RALEY
Mr. Raley is a free-lance author, speaker, philosopher from Gadsden, Alabama.
Since I live near the border between public and private power, socialism in action is, for me, a very provocative experience. The assiduous propaganda campaign by the Tennessee Valley Authority to justify socialism and ostracize private ownership would seem to inspire anyone who loves liberty to expend all means at his command in defense of free enterprise.
It has occurred to me, as I’m sure it will to you, that I could have a selfish reason for disliking public power. Since I live on the private power side of the border, my electric bill may be a dollar or two, per month, higher than the same number of kilowatt hours would cost on the other side of the border. I do not claim to enjoy paying my own electric bill and part of my neighbor’s, but I do maintain that this is the least of my complaints against public power.
One of the things that irritates me most is the huge sign on the border between public and private power areas. The sign states:
That sign really bugs me. It is a blazing endorsement, by an instrument of our United States government, of the "something for nothing" theory. It is perfectly right and legal for "you" to own something that "we" were forced to pay for, seems to be the message conveyed.
I resent the fact that innumerable individuals are exposed to this type of propaganda each day. Under these conditions how can children be reared to respect the rights and property of others, and also respect their government? By what authority do the powers that be in this Republic debase the American concept of ownership, void the Golden Rule, deny individual freedom of choice, and endorse a condition under which the Republic we know cannot endure?
The sign is a hoax, of course, a device for brainwashing and reeducating — a means of conditioning the individual to accept the fact that he may rightly own something that was paid for by others, and even feel pride in so doing.
In addition to the highway sign, there is a great deal of newspaper advertising in support of the theory that public power is good for America, while private power is, by implication, a nasty, monopoly-ridden industry. TVA is shown as a healthy competitor of free enterprise.
Surely no one can doubt that TVA is healthy; so healthy, in fact, it was able to secure an injunction prohibiting Southern Railway from attempting to break its (TVA’s) monopoly on transporting grain. In essence their plea states that TVA has spent so much of the people’s money that it is unfair to allow these same people to compete with them. That’s competition?
"What do you mean, unfair?"
In regard to the right of TVA, or any organization dispensing its product, to compete with a privately owned business, consider this example: Suppose a certain municipality invoked a tax on all grocery stores within its jurisdiction. The proceeds of this tax were then used to build a huge supermarket at a choice location. When the people who paid the bill objected, city fathers and operators of the co-op store said, "What do you mean, unfair? This store belongs to you. We paid for it, but it’s all yours. Now, of course, the governmental officials are going to run it. They will use your money to buy and they will sell at any price they choose. Should you find it impossible to compete under those conditions you will have to quit. If you do find a way to compete, they can get an injunction to stop you. Remember, now, this is your business, but you can’t sell it; you will never receive one cent dividend on your investment or be able to exercise any control whatsoever over operations. All this notwithstanding, you should feel a great pride of ownership."
We, in America, joke about the Englishman who endures obsolete railroad transportation, because he owns the railroads. We speak, with contempt, of the shivering Russian peasant who can feel pride in the fact that the government that owns him also owns a great factory to produce warm topcoats. Then, we, as a people, accept and condone the self-same theory of ownership. This situation must surely appear amusing to a native of another land, but to me, an American citizen, born to liberty, it is deeply irritating.
Since living near one of the visible boundaries between socialism and free enterprise irritates me so deeply, it may have occurred to you that I could move to a more secluded location. As a matter of fact, I have been approached, with some pretty strong suggestions, on that very subject, by advocates of public power, but I see no honorable way to comply. It’s not that I enjoy being irritated, you understand, but I have this theory about irritation and the part it must have played in the crowning achievements of man.
Oppressive taxation, among other things, so irritated the Founding Fathers that they saw fit to declare this country a free and independent nation. It seems most doubtful that the patriots would have risked their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor in a revolution with so little apparent likelihood of success, had they been any less than severely irritated.
In the beginning man found himself at a great disadvantage in physical ability. His senses of sight, hearing, and smell were inferior to that of animals that depended on these senses. As he cowed, half-starved, in the background and watched the big cats kill game that he was unable to catch, our ancestors were surely irritated. So irritated, in fact, that sooner or later some individual picked up a club and started bashing heads.
At some period in the past man became irritated because of his limited power of communication. Since early men were great fishermen, this is not difficult to understand. Just think how irritating it must have been, trying to tell about the size of that big one that got away, with nothing better than a few different grunts. There must have been many nervous breakdowns before irritated individuals, through the years, established a satisfactory vocabulary.
The list is endless, but I am sure this is enough to carry my point. I don’t like to be irritated, but I’m proud that what I see happening in America does irritate me so much that I am forced to take whatever action my ability permits to reduce the cause.