Whatever Became of Free Enterprise?


Whatever Became of Free Enterprise?, by Ronald L. Soble, New York: New American Library, 1977, 212 pp., $1.75 (paper).

This little book is a milestone in the history of anti-thought. Never before has anyone worked so hard in such a small space, at obscuring facts, confusing concepts, and deceiving minds.

Concepts are constantly misdefined. "Has business become so big that it is an extension of government?" Soble asks. His presupposition here is clearly that everything big is a government—which has some interesting implications, such as that Mount Everest, the Pacific Ocean, and the Andromeda Galaxy must be governments.

Over a hundred pages later, he quotes approvingly another explanation of the State, one Wassily Leontieff's statement that it is "simply a corporation of interests of the public. That is what our free democracy is." A government can be described as a corporation, if that word is used to mean simply "organization"—though "organization" itself would be a better, because less ambiguous, term in this context. But how could interests in themselves form any kind of an assembly? How can a community where a majority forces its dictates on everybody be free? And what is simple about all this gibberish?

Soble not only endorses the meaningless statements of others, he makes similar assertions himself. "To let 'nature take its course'" and maintain a free market, he opines, "is to keep our collective head in the sand." Well, free enterprise is incompatible with the collectivization of heads; but is collectivization of heads, with its destruction of free thought and free choice, so desirable?

Misrepresentations abound. For example, the free market, an economy based on peaceable and voluntary cooperation, is constantly presented as if based on force and violence. Where Soble does not misrepresent, he often tries to confuse with irrelevancies and ambiguities. Nationalization, he says, "may prove no more dangerous to our individual freedoms than increased governmental regulation in other areas of our lives." Perhaps. But just how dangerous to our freedom have those other forms of governmental domination been? "Those favoring a planned economy," he says, "flatly deny they are driving the country toward a sort of veiled socialism." And S. Andral Kilmer always flatly denied that his Swamp Root kidney cure was nothing but cheap whiskey. But what really matters in both cases is what their projects actually are, not what they claim them to be. Kilmer's Swamp Root was cheap booze, and the social planners' schemes are a form of socialism or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

And finally, he employs out-and-out contradictions. On some pages of his book, Soble declares that American businessmen are so powerful that they will create vast and despotic monopolies unless the government takes over. On other pages, he declares that all businesses in America are so feeble that they will collapse altogether if the government doesn't take over. But he can't have it both ways.

There is only one sentence in all of this book that has any large element of truth in it: "We have arrived at that time in history when economic and political realities have become blurred." Yes, we have. And Ronald L. Soble is not helping matters any.