The Incredible Bread Machine
The Incredible Bread Machine, by Susan Love Brown, Karl Keating, David Mellinger, Patrea Post, Stuart Smith, and Catriona Tudor, San Diego: World Research, Inc., Campus Studies Institute Division, 1974, 192 pp., $4.95 (hardback), $1.25 (paper).
The Incredible Bread Machine was originally a privately published 286-page "study of capitalism, freedom—and the State," as it was subtitled. In vigorous fashion, author Richard W. Grant discussed the history of capitalism in America, the moral-political principles that underlie the free society (individualism, private property, capitalism), and their application to understanding the government-created political and economic problems that overwhelm us today. The viewpoint was straight libertarian—back in 1966 when that word was not yet in general use. It was a good book to give a friend who needed an introduction to capitalism and freedom. It sought to make converts. It skipped the fundamental philosophy and, economic theory that constitutes the bedrock of libertarian thought, while still tackling the job of unifying the moral and utilitarian aspects of capitalism into a single picture, presumably on the premise that even if everyone ought to read Ayn Rand and the Austrian economists, not everyone's thought processes are such that he or she will get started that way.
Campus Studies Institute (CSI) bought the rights to The Incredible Bread Machine last year and has now published a new version. They have rewritten it thoroughly, shortened it, rearranged it, and added some up-to-date examples of statist interventions into our lives. They have also retained Grant's satirical poem, "Tom Smith and His Incredible Bread Machine," in shortened form from the original edition, in which Tom Smith invents an incredible bread-making machine that feeds the world for less than a penny per person per day—until the bureaucrats start tinkering.
CSI is a nonprofit organization located in San Diego and its purpose is to reach college students with the ideas of the free market. CSI promotes laissez-faire libertarian economics, sending out tens of thousands of mailing pieces each year, professional-appearing leaflets that suggest a talent for marketing ideas far beyond the tender years of most of the staff (the authors average 24 years of age). These pieces go to college students and their professors on a number of campuses. As a consequence, CSI receives thousands of letters per year from students, replying personally to each one.
In this way the CSI staff have gained broad experience in dealing with the intellect of the run of today's college youth. They know, through a wide exposure to the thinking of their correspondents, what it takes to reach the regular student—not the ones who are naturals for free market ideas, but the ones who have to grow into comprehending and accepting an ideology. It is those students (and nonstudents, for that matter) to whom CSI has directed this new version of The Incredible Bread Machine. Thus they allowed almost nothing in IBM that could be called "preachy" (their term), as opposed to objective—a false dichotomy, to be sure, but that's the way kids have been taught to think in this age of moral and epistemological relativism. This does not deny the necessity for a wholehearted, uncompromising advocacy of laissez-faire in the book, and it is there. Nor does it suggest that certain principles have been played down in order to achieve maximum "practical" influence. None have. It is just too bad that an argument's tone, rather than its content, is often what causes it to be rejected.
After a short introduction presenting several cases of the machinery of the State grinding up individuals for breakfast—an appeal to the reader's sense of elementary justice—IBM launches into history ("The Bread Also Rises"). It draws the crucial distinction between laissez-faire and political plunder: the difference between, on the one side, J.J. Hill's Great Northern Railway and, on the other, the Big Four of California, the Erie Ring, the Credit Mobilier, and other early symbiotic alliances of big business and the State. Though necessarily brief, this account is no conservative-minded superficiality. We find the revisionist notion that regulation of the economy was largely due to the pressure of the biggest businessmen, who sought to suppress the "instability" of competition and guarantee themselves the top spots forever in a controlled status quo. If monopoly was a threat around the turn of the century, it was because of political manipulation, not the market—which was becoming more competitive and decentralized, not less.
The following chapter continues the saga of capitalism in America ("The Sun Sinks in the Yeast"). It briefly draws on the Austrian explanation of the business cycle, and in particular, on Rothbard's America's Great Depression, to debunk the myth that depressions are an inherent peril of the market. The most important points about the Depression era are presented: that the Fed caused the boom and bust of the 1920's, with its mad inflation; that Hoover was an outright statist; that his administration and the New Deal could only cause problems with their massive interventionism; that FDR's confiscation of gold was one of the most depraved political swindles in history; and that the success of Keynes' quackery was not due to any applicability of it to reality, but to the rationalizations it provided for those already intellectually and politically dedicated to the planned society.
Switching from history to modern issues, the third chapter talks about "the old trick of turning every contingency into a resource for accumulating force in the government." Examples covered are: the manipulation of the money supply, antitrust and monopoly, minimum wage, labor unions, and price controls. Since this chapter treats economic issues from a practical perspective, the libertarian reader looking for a uniquely libertarian approach here will notice that it could have appeared, as is, in a strictly conservative journal or book. This is in line with the intent to postpone the main exposition of principles to IBM's third general section.
Nonetheless, the following chapter does introduce moral considerations into its coverage of three more issues—civil rights, welfare, and social security—if only because their natures demand it: "The State has stuck its nose into moral affairs and has used these issues to broaden the base of its own power. Particularly in [the above three areas], the importance of individual freedom has been obscured under the guise of helping unfortunate people whose plight, in many instances, was most likely caused by government in the first place." [p. 99]
Libertarians are sometimes quick to (properly) condemn the excesses of the modern civil rights cause—forced integration of private property, ethnic quotas, preferential treatment of certain minorities—while failing to focus on the full historical context. IBM balances its discussions: "The Civil Rights Movement in the United States sprang up in response to the negation of individual rights—a negation that had its roots in enslavement of black individuals and the maltreatment of members of other minority races and ethnic groups. Thus racism was systematized and intensified by government intervention, and the real issue—individual rights—has been obscured." [p. 100] The section on welfare is short, but excellent. There is no conservative arguing that government aid to the poor is wrong because it leads to a weakening of the social moral fiber and order. Rights are the reason. And with social security, ample evidence is presented to justify the libertarian contention that this so-called retirement and insurance program is a vicious political fraud and moral outrage.
The final third of the book is devoted to the moral foundation of laissez-faire. This is what the libertarian reader has been waiting for, and it is what the uninitiated reader has been led to by the preceding material. "The Bread of the Matter" introduces Richard W. Grant's three principles, then each is allotted its own chapter: "Staff of Life" for individualism, "Better Bread Than Dead" for private property, and "Baker's Dozen" for capitalism.
The treatment of individualism makes the essential contrast between self-interest and self-sacrifice—the moral good of egoism versus the evil of altruism—and makes it clear that the individual's natural obligations are to his own values, not to society. The chapter on property is based on an article by William W. Bayes in The Freeman. My only criticism is academic: the chapter generalizes the concept of property so that rights and property are coequal and nearly identical. It is of course vital to realize that rights to property are just as natural as rights to one's own life and person, and that to separate them in practice is to maintain an artificial and hence destructive distinction. However, the concept of property remains genetically dependent on the concept of rights. This chapter serves well enough to introduce the natural rights view of property, but to say that "there is no right which is not property" [p. 141] seems a possible source of confusion, especially to those struggling with such ideas for the first time.
Finally, "Baker's Dozen" links capitalism's moral and practical aspects. We see that liberty and the free market cannot be divorced, in theory or in history, and that tyranny and economic controls are the two sides of the same well-worn coin. This is the success of The Incredible Bread Machine: that the reader new to its ideas cannot come away without realizing that capitalism does not consist merely of the mechanics of the market economy, but that it entails a moral-social philosophy—an entire view of man. It is this very realization become widespread and taken seriously that will eventually make possible a free society. Great strides may yet be made in our own time. The Incredible Bread Machine—the product of six bright, unsheltered, effective young men and women (and their dedicated bosses)—can play a part in making them.
Dean Sandin graduated from UCSD with a degree in physics and now works as a computer programmer in San Diego, California. He has been a libertarian activist for over 10 years.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "The Incredible Bread Machine".