10000 Tampa Avenue
September 20, 1946
Mr. William C. Mullendore
Dear Bill Mullendore:
If you were writing a treatise on the various ways in which a young man can make a living in civilized society, you would not end up by saying: “And then there is always the possibility of robbing a bank.”
If you decided to mention such a possibility, you would write of it in the manner of a dire warning, stating how evil it is and why one must not attempt it.
If such were your intention, you would not describe in great detail the method of cracking a safe, and then conclude, as your sole comment, with: “It would be a lot of bother for a young man. It would take him so long!”
Yet this is precisely what the authors of “Roofs or Ceilings?” have done in their discussion of the socialization of private homes, in the chapter entitled “The Method of Public Rationing”, pp 16–17. What objection have they raised against it? None, except that it would take an O.P.A. board “too long to decide.” (!)
Where, in that whole unspeakable passage, is there one word of condemnation against the idea of seizing private homes? Nowhere. The authors have most carefully refrained from expressing any disapproval of it in principle. What is more, they have skillfully suggested approval.
They say that “rationing by a public agency is unlikely to be accepted on a thorough-going basis.”
Do they say that it should not be accepted? Why, no. Do they say people would be right in not accepting it? No. Just that it’s unlikely.
They say that: “it is utterly impracticable from a political viewpoint to order an American family owning its home either to take in a strange family (for free choice would defeat the purpose of rationing) or to move out.”
Only from a political viewpoint? From what viewpoint would it be practicable?
If you were discussing wholesale slaughter, you would not choose the word “impracticable” as your sole objection against it.
When the general public hears it said that some proposal is “politically impracticable” and “unlikely to be accepted”—with no other condemnation added—the public gets the impression that the proposal is desirable, in fact noble and idealistic, but people are too stupid or backward or selfish to accept it. Which is precisely the impression conveyed in the passage on pp 16–17.
No, the authors have not said it out loud. Yes, it’s only an implication. But an implication of this kind is worth a lot to the Communist Party.
When one presents a proposal of unspeakable horror, and then condemns
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it with some weak little rebuke—the condemnation amounts to a whitewash. A logical reader will then think: “Well, if this is the worst that can be said against it, the proposal is not so bad.”
Now let us examine another point (the two are connected).
Do you really think that calling the free pricing system a “rationing” system is merely confusing and innocuous?
The word “rationing” does not mean “distributing”. The two are not synonymous. “Rationing” has a specific meaning of its own. It means: to distribute in a certain particular manner—by the decision of an absolute authority, with the recipients having no choice whatever about what they receive; it also means that all the recipients involved have an equal claim to that which is being rationed, and are entitled to an equal share.
That is the precise meaning of the word “rationing”; that is the sense in which it has always been used. And it has been used—quite properly—only in application to two main instances, both involving absolute authority: in military life (the rationing of soldiers), and in stock farm parlance (the rationing of animals).
In the mind of the American people, the word “rationing” is infamous—and quite properly so. It is the word and the badge of slavery. Americans will not accept rationing as a permanent way of life (they should not have accepted it temporarily, either). Any proposal that involves rationing will be defeated by that word alone, as the bureaucrats are now finding out. Americans do have that much sense left.
But what if that word could be made respectable? Would it or would it not be of inestimable help to those who want to bring us to a total and permanent system of rationing?
Remember how such words as “democracy”, “isolationism”, “reactionary”, etc. were put over, and what use was made of them, and for what purpose. They, too, merely created a slight confusion—at first.
If the trick pulled by the authors were merely innocent stupidity, wouldn’t such a confusion of terms still be inexcusable? Particularly on the part of an organization that professes as its goal a sound education in economics and the clearing up of the popular confusion about economics?
Can an organization educate people to understand the nature of principles, if it permits a statement such as this: “War experience has led many people to think of rationing as equivalent to O.P.A. forms, coupons, and orders. But this is a superficial view.”[*]
I submit that this is a statement of plain intellectual depravity. It has the effrontery to call a judgment by principles “a superficial view”. Certainly rationing is equivalent to O.P.A. forms, coupons, and orders—in principle and by definition. Rationing IS coercion, that is, orders, and nothing else whatever. The essential distinction of a free market, as against any other kind of system, lies in the absence of coercion and in the method of exchange by voluntary choice.
Can an educational organization call the above distinction “a superficial view” and still retain the moral right to try to educate people in clear
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After that, it is shocking to read, on the card inserted into the booklet, that: “The Foundation for Economic Education is devoted to explaining the distinctions between free private enterprise and coercive systems; between voluntary and involuntary action.” (!)
[handwritten insert:] The trick perpetrated by the authors of the booklet is neither innocent, nor innocuous, nor accidental.
If we accept the idea that a free pricing system is a form of rationing, the unavoidable logical implications and consequences are as follows: if a free pricing system is a form of rationing, then every person living under it has an equal claim upon and title to all the goods produced. (To ration means to share; a free pricing system is not based on the idea of sharing anything; a rationing system is.) But anyone can see that under a free pricing system everybody is not getting an equal share of everything. Therefore, this form of rationing is not working well or fairly. Why isn’t it? Because the rationing is done by private persons in their own selfish interest. What is the solution? Another form of rationing—which would be run by disinterested public servants for the common good of all.
Once the people’s mind has reached this stage of confusion, the rest is easy. The collectivists have won, because their basic premise has been accepted. There is no real issue left. Subsequent arguments will always be won by the collectivists—(as all modern arguments are, on any issue, and for the same reason)—because the collectivists will be consistent with the premise accepted by both parties, while the defenders of free enterprise will not; these last will become self-contradictory, self-defeating, hypocritical and helpless.
Instead of an issue between two absolute opposites, such as freedom or slavery (free exchange or rationing), the argument will be counterfeited into a squabble over “forms”, “two versions of the same thing”, “a mere difference of ‘opinion’ or ‘interpretation’,” etc. Instead of a difference in principles, it will become merely a difference of methods. Instead of a difference in kind, it will become merely a difference of degree.
And here is the pay-off: when the groundwork is ready, a collectivist says to the average American: “Don’t fool yourself, brother. You’ve always lived under a system of rationing and always will. The only choice you have is this: Do you want to be rationed by selfish, greedy capitalists for their own private profit—or would you rather be rationed by a public authority who will have no motive except your own good and the general welfare?”
If the average American then chooses this last, will you blame him? Will you call him illogical?
The above sequence of reasoning is implicit in the definition of a free-market system as a system of rationing. Any reader who is able to make logical deductions from the premises he reads and to trace the ultimate consequences of an argument by its beginning, will see it without any trouble. But the authors did not leave it just for somebody like me to deduce. They made sure not to have it missed; they indicated the whole progression—step by step. It’s all there. We don’t have to infer anything. They’ve blueprinted it.
Page 9 “Everything that is not as abundant as air or sunlight must, in a sense, be rationed. That is, whenever people want more of something
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than can be had for the asking, whether bread, theater tickets, blankets, or haircuts, there must be some way of determining how it shall be distributed among those who want it.”
This is the first piece of intellectual counterfeiting. This is where they make readers start by swallowing a collectivist premise. The above is not a definition of Capitalism—not in any “sense”.
Nothing produced under Capitalism can be had “for the asking”; it can be had only for a price; which is quite a different principle. Capitalism does not presume that everything wanted by people is to be distributed among all those who want it; nor that want constitutes a claim; nor that the total of goods produced is intended for the total of the population as by right and on equal shares.
If five yachts are produced, under Capitalism, the principle of the system does not imply that we must then find “some way of determining how they shall be distributed” among 130,000,000 people who undoubtedly want them. Under Capitalism, a man produces for himself and exchanges his product with whomever he wishes for whatever he wishes. If he has produced only ten pairs of shoes for ten customers, the fact that there are 2,000,000,000 barefoot men on earth is no concern of his. And the 2,000,000,000 barefoot men have no claim whatever—theoretical, practical or moral—upon him or his customers. The paragraph I quoted is a definition of pure Collectivism.
Page 9 (further down) “The advantages of rationing by higher rents are clear from our example…”
This time, the “in a sense” has been omitted. What, at first, could have been taken by a careless reader as merely a sloppy figure of speech, has now become an unqualified, matter-of-fact definition.
From this point on, there are no such words as “free market”, “free exchange” or “free pricing” in the booklet. It’s “rationing by higher rents” throughout. Do you think that’s accidental?
Note the particular tag chosen: “rationing by higher rents”. No demagogue could have hit upon a catch-phrase more damning to Capitalism, one that would sound more unjust, obnoxious and offensive to the average man, particularly to the poor, one more certain to arouse resentment. Accidental, too? Innocently chosen by authors intent on championing a free system of rentals?
Page 14 “Rental property is now rationed by various forms of chance and favoritism.” This refers to present rentals under price ceilings. The text that follows performs another piece of counterfeiting: apartments are not rented by harrassed, hogtied landlords—but are “rationed by favoritism.” Implication: a landlord has no right to choose the tenants of his own property, if there are more than one applicant.
Page 16—the pay-off:
“The defects in our present method of rationing by landlords are obvious and weighty. They are to be expected under private, personal rationing, which is, of course, why O.P.A. assumed the task of rationing meats, fats, canned goods, and sugar during the war instead of letting grocers ration them.”
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Dear Bill Mullendore, there is no excuse and no possible forgiveness for this paragraph. And there is no possible way to misunderstand it.
I never thought I’d live to see the day when Leonard Read would endorse a vindication of the O.P.A. (and with an “of course” included) as against “private, personal” grocers.
The chapter that follows the above quotation is the passage on pp 16–17, which I have discussed. This passage speaks about ordering people out of their own homes and forcing tenants into private houses. Is this procedure identified by the proper, specific name which exists for it? Do the authors call it socialization? Why, no. It’s not socialization—it’s only “rationing by the O.P.A.” (!) Is this another accidental bit of innocent confusion?
This chapter is the core of the booklet and of the authors’ argument, the purpose of the whole contemptible performance. The rest is pure guff and space-filling.
No, this booklet alone will not convert people to the cause of property socialization. It’s not direct propaganda—collectivists never work through direct propaganda. It’s groundwork-laying. To the extent to which this booklet has any influence, is taken seriously or makes any point at all—to that extent it will prepare the ground (the necessary intellectual confusion) upon which the demand for socialization can be planted, when the right time comes. The booklet itself is just a little drop in the bucket. All the successes of collectivist propaganda and of various collectivist proposals have been achieved through just such little drops, carefully planted in systematic progression.
No, this booklet does not advocate socialization of property in so many words. But neither did Willkie advocate the election of Roosevelt in so many words. Yet that is what Willkie achieved.
I will note another point in the booklet; this one is subtle and might actually be missed by many readers; but it’s indicative of the fact that the authors were not at all confused about their own ideas. On page 16, they glorify the O.P.A. as proper and practical (as quoted above). On page 18, they claim that the housing shortage is due to “the very success of O.P.A. in regulating rents.” Well, then, what should we do? O.P.A. is good, much better than “private, personal landlords”—and yet it is bad in the job of regulating rents. What should we wish the O.P.A. to do? Turn to page 16. You will find there the question: “Should O.P.A. undertake the task of rationing housing facilities?” NOWHERE IN THE BOOKLET IS THIS QUESTION ANSWERED BY A FLAT NEGATIVE.
As to the lip-service plea for removing rent ceilings and returning to a system of free pricing—it is mere window-dressing, weak, ineffectual, inconclusive and unconvincing. What reasons do they offer in support of free-pricing? Not one word about the inalienable right of landlords and property owners. Not one word about the inalienable right of tenants to pay whatever they wish to pay. Not one word about any kind of principles. Just expediency (we’ll get more housing space)—and humanitarian (sic. The word is used on p 16) concern for those who can find no houses.
The net result is the impression that free-pricing won’t work very well, anyway; that it’s a temporary make-shift, a regrettable compromise with the selfish home owners; that it’s an evil—but a lesser one than other
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evils (see last sentence of booklet).
Item: Page 21 “Formal rationing by public authority would probably make matters still worse.” (“Formal rationing” here stands for “socialization.” The italics are mine.)
Item: Page 22 “Rationing by higher rents would…have the merit of spreading the burden more evenly among the population as a whole. It would hurt more persons immediately, but each less severely, than the existing methods. This is…the justification for using high rents to ration housing.”
This is a good example of the effect that can be achieved through “accidentally” sloppy terminology, and of how such terminology helps to put things over. Strip the above quotation of the fancy double-talk about “high rents to ration housing”, which stands for “free pricing”. Translated into plain language, the quote means: The justification of Capitalism is that it hurts more persons and that the burden is spread among the population as a whole.
I have given you this detailed analysis in order to make the basic premise of this booklet unmistakeably clear to you. Actually, however, it is clear without the details, because the authors have stated it explicitly at the beginning of the booklet and at the end.
Their basic premise is that everything belongs to everybody—and that the arguing among various factions is only about methods of dividing it up.
On page 8, the authors state: “The problem that now confronts the entire nation (is): how can a relatively fixed amount of housing be divided (that is, rationed) among people who wish much more until new construction can fill the gap? In 1906 the rationing was done by higher rents. In 1946, the use of higher rents to ration housing has been made illegal by the imposition of rent ceilings, and the rationing is by chance and favoritism. A third possibility would be for O.P.A. to undertake the rationing.”
(This third possibility is presented on pp 16–17. It’s the socialization of private homes.)
NOW I SUBMIT THAT IN A CIVILIZED SOCIETY ONE DOES NOT INCLUDE THE SOCIALIZATION OF PRIVATE HOMES AMONG THE SOCIAL “POSSIBILITIES”—AND ONE DOES NOT DISCUSS IT IN THAT TONE OF CALM, ACADEMIC DETACHMENT, AS IF IT WERE A COURSE AS PROPER TO CONSIDER AS ANY OTHER.
I submit that a Foundation which is dedicated to the defense of individual rights and which has permitted such a discussion to be issued under its imprint, has forfeited all moral right to continue to exist.
On page 22, the authors state, as their conclusion: “We should like to emphasize as strongly as we can that our objectives are the same as yours: the most equitable possible distribution of the available supply of housing and the speediest possible resumption of new construction.”
I submit that it is not my objective to distribute other people’s property; and that private homes are not an “available supply of housing” to a nation, no matter how large the number of the homeless nor how great their need.
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(Private homes are discussed throughout the booklet as if they were to be considered “an available supply”. Well, they are “available” to the people and to those authors only in the sense in which a man’s wallet is available to a pickpocket.)
Since the above “objectives” are those of the Foundation for Economic Education, by explicit statement—I can permit myself no further co-operation of any kind with that Foundation.
Now I shall ask you an ethical question. I have not referred to the disgraceful performance on page 10. Without any of my analysis, the last paragraph on that page proves that the authors are Collectivists. The Editor’s Note proves that the publishers know it. (The lack of dignity and integrity in the hypocrisy of that Editor’s Note is appalling. But that’s not my main point.) If the publishers classify their own authors as “those who put equality above justice and liberty”, this means—in plain language—an admission that they are publishing the work of Collectivists.
Here is my question: At a time when good, competent conservative writers are being blacklisted and starved by the pink clique that controls so many commercial magazines—why did Leonard Read hire two reds, with money entrusted to him by conservatives anxious to preserve Capitalism?
I think it is a question that should be asked of him, and I think it is proper that you—as a trustee of the Foundation—should ask it.
*The Office of Price Administration (O.P.A.) was in charge of rationing in the U.S. during World War II. It was in operation from 1941 until 1947.
There is no direct response from Mullendore in the Ayn Rand Archives, but AR indicates his response in two subsequent letters to Rose Wilder Lane [Letters 270 and 273].