I was listening to an old detective show on Radio Classics, SiriusXM; the title of the show was Qui Bono?. The detective was trying to solve a murder–not surprisingly, he did, by following the titled “who benefits” line of thinking. It struck me this was a powerfully useful question in many areas of real life.
For example, who benefits from promoting the false notion that valuable products and services are free? We all know that virtually nothing is free, and that someone pays for everything. So why are many people promoting free health care and free college–to name but two? Many people say they want “free” healthcare, instead of saying they want free access to healthcare that is paid for by others. Is it because they really believe it is free, or is it because they want to associate “free” with being a no-brainer decision? Or perhaps it’s because if something is seen as free, it can also easily be seen as an entitlement.
You likely have heard the saying, “Follow the money.” If you unpack that advice, it tells us to find where the money came from and where it is going in order to see who is doing what to whom. And why. For example, if you want to know where someone’s loyalties or priorities lie, find out where their money comes from and where they spend it. More than their words, their actions will tell you what you need to know.
Pause for a key variation of that advice: “Follow the power.” In politics, power is everything. Henry Kissinger once said, “Power is the great aphrodisiac.” Of course money is involved, but it is a tool, not the primary objective. Power is. And how do politicians get power? Votes, and controlling votes. Let’s apply the “follow the power” advice to the question of why certain people, politicians in this case, act as if overwhelming expensive services like healthcare and college are free. Free means that someone would not have to feel any type of guilt for accepting. If it is free, then I can take it with a happy heart, without even a fleeting thought about not having earned it. Who needs to earn free?
The next step for the “it’s free” politician is to accuse opposing politicos of not wanting the people to have the “free” things because the bad guys–the opposition–are Grinches who don’t want anyone but the wealthy to have anything of real value. Do you see the two-faced nature of this argument? On one hand, the free crowd is making things look as if they actually are free; on the other hand, they are saying the opposition is too stingy to pay for things for those who are not wealthy. And they are getting away with it.
Unexamined, free sounds like a no-brainer good deal. “I’ll vote for that person. And I will not vote for the person who does not want me to have it.” The key word is unexamined. Things that come for free are not valued nearly as much as things we earn. Quoting a subscriber, “I remember from my childhood taking care of the stuff I paid for. I have also seen this in my own children, when they pay for something, using money they worked for, they take care of the item better.” Grades, a job, a car, food–it doesn’t matter. If it is free, then it will be valued far less. And not only under appreciated, but not put to optimal use. Or anything close.
The free crowd takes it two calculated steps farther: Step 1. Not only are things free, but you deserve them. Step 2. The people who don’t want you to have things for free are the reason that you don’t have them in the first place. Follow this logic trail with me: Stuff’s Free. You deserve it. And “they” are the reason that you don’t have it in the first place. If this were a bullfight, it would be game over. At this point, the sword would go into the bull, and the bull dies. The crowd rises as if one, celebrating the matador, who waves to the crowd yelling “Free!”
As with bullfighting, the free game is massively bloody, with a known outcome. In the bullring, the bull dies. In our world truth, initiative, freedom, and our economy are the likely casualties. Fortunately, bullfighting is a dying (pun intended) sport. The free game is just getting rolling.
Remember: It is the cheese in the mousetrap that fooled–and killed–the mouse.
“Free” is a Misleading Word
Will Luden, writing from my home office at 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.
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