By Bryan Caplan
No, this isn’t another post on simplified spelling. The Edukators is a German movie about anti-capitalism protestors who break into rich people’s houses, re-arrange their furniture in the spirit of Dadaism, and leave a note saying “You have too much money. [Signed] The educators.” On principle, they don’t steal anything; the goal is to solely make the rich feel scared and violated.
Despite the sympathetic depiction of these “idealists,” I have to admit it was a well-told story. You might want to see it for yourself, so… I issue this warning: spoilers follow!
Eventually the rebels break into the house of a rich man one of them personally knows. He recognizes one of the educators, so they kidnap him. While holding the businessman prisoner, they debate economic philosophy. Unfortunately, the businessman is a former student radical himself, so deep down he agrees with their claim that he is an exploiting oppressor who has gotten rich by “robbing” the poor. His only responses are that (1) he disapproves of their terroristic methods, and (2) he could only save a thousand people from starvation once.
Of course, it’s hardly fair debating someone who’s afraid for his life. But I found myself wondering how the debate would have gone if the educators had kidnapped a fearless and unconflicted libertarian businessman instead. Here’s how the scene should have gone:
Jan [radical leader]: Everything you have is stolen!
Hardenberg [businessman]: Stolen? No, I produced my wealth.
Jan: You international bankers take it from the poor of the Third World.
Hardenberg: You don’t know a lot about the international economy, do you? Almost all international trade is between rich countries. Germany and America trade a lot. Germany and Chad don’t.
Jan: How can that be?
Hardenberg: Simple. Poor countries don’t produce much, so they don’t have much to sell. And since they don’t sell much, they don’t buy much. If they did, of course, I’d be first in line to do business with them, and they’d get even richer.
Jan: But still, you have so much more than you need. Why don’t you help these poor people?
Hardenberg: OK, so you admit that I’m not a robber; I haven’t done a thing to people in the Third World. But instead of apologizing to me for making a false accusation, you’re changing the subject. Now you’re asking why I don’t give more to charity.
Jan: Whatever. So how can you live knowing that people are starving for want of your help?
Hardenberg: How can you live knowing that people are starving for want of your help? While I’ve been your prisoner, you’ve smoked enough cigarettes to feed an African family for a year.
Jan: Well, maybe I’m not perfect, but your lifestyle is obscene.
Hardenberg: What’s obscene about it? I produce wealth, and enjoy the fruits of my labors. It’s your lifestyle that’s obscene. You’re the parasite who mysteriously consumes a pile of food, alcohol, and grass without even having a job.
Jan: Now you’re changing the subject. Why don’t you give away your riches to the poor?
Hardenberg: Simple. Because they’re strangers and I don’t owe them anything. It’s may not be their fault that they’re poor, but it’s certainly not mine. And unless you quit being a bum, get the highest-paying job you can, and hand over all your earnings above your basic needs to the poor, you’re going to have to give same answer.