Hollywood versus Bastiat and the free enterprise system

Hollywood vs. Bastiat and the free enterprise system

A Dark Truth, a film starring Forest Whitaker and Andy Garcia, takes a swing at capitalism and misses by a longshot. It is also almost as ridiculous tactically as it is ideologically. Apparently the film’s budget did not include hiring a consultant with military or police experience to ensure that the actors playing roles with supposed years of tactical experience (soldiers, a former CIA operative, etc.) would handle guns in a way that would appear they’ve actually been trained to use them. But the film’s blatantly absurd gun handling is the least of its problems.

In the film, Jack Begosian, played by Garcia, is a radio talk show host and former CIA operative. He is hired to go to Ecuador to expose a massacre of innocent civilians. The massacre is supported and covered up by a North American water company and carried out by the Ecuadorian military.

What the film attempts to show is that evil corporations run by businessmen and inspired by greed, will stop at nothing to earn a profit for themselves and their shareholders, including massacring countless innocent women and children. But to anyone that understands the functions of free enterprise system, what the film actually shows is an entity of government (in this case, the Ecuadorian military) that fails to maintain its proper role of protecting life, liberty and property of the citizens it is empowered to protect. Instead the military itself becomes a profit-seeking entity and partners with the evil senior leadership of the water company. Important to note is that it is not the businessmen in the film that carries out the deed of massacring innocent civilians with guns; it is the Ecuadorian military. The film’s flaw in reasoning is that without the privileged and corrupt alliance with the Ecuadorian government, the water company, driven by men who seek a profit, would be forced to gain its profit only by peaceful and voluntary exchange in the free market. That is, it would only gain profit from customers that would willingly trade money for water because they consider themselves better off by purchasing the water in the first place. In the unlikely event that the water company was to try to sell its water to citizens at gunpoint or perhaps outright rob them without providing water in return, the only proper role of government in this case would be to defend innocent life!

As a direct attack on property rights, Begosian explains to one live caller on his radio show that 300 years ago in England the government privatized public land. “…It changed the way we think, the way we view time, and land, and water,” he says. “Is it wrong to sell water? What about air, would it be wrong to sell air? …Is it so far-fetched [that] you can sell water but you can’t sell air?” During another scene in the film, Francisco Francis, played by Forest Whitaker says “We are talking about a natural resource. Natural resources should be controlled by the government for the people. Not by the private entity whose major interests are to maximize profit.”

Let us think about this for a minute. Air is abundant all around us. The air you breathe comes at no expense to anyone else. But what if you wanted to breathe outside normal circumstances? What if, for example, you wanted to breathe underwater? Would you not have to buy an air tank or a snorkel? Since to breathe underwater, you would have to pay to acquire the means to breathe by purchasing a device that would make it possible, what is the difference? The difference is that when you buy an air tank or a snorkel you are compensating many other people for their labor, ideas and for their property – all of which have made the production and availability of your tank or snorkel possible. And the seller? He would not sell you an air tank or a snorkel unless he believes he is better off with the money you offered to him. So how then does all of this apply to water? I ask you. Does water not need purification? Does water not need transportation? Does water not need bottling or to be stored in a large tank? Why then is selling a natural resource different than selling any other?

Let us compare the role that the Ecuadorian government played in the film to the view of Frédéric Bastiat – a 19th Century French defender of free enterprise. In his book The Law he argues:

“…individuality, liberty, property — this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it. Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”

In Bastiat’s view, life is important; therefore the proper role of government is to protect women, children and anyone else – not massacre them. Liberty is important; therefore the proper role of government is to allow individuals to make choices for themselves. Citizens are free (not forced) to buy water from anyone they please, and sellers are free to sell to anyone they please. Property is important; therefore the proper role of government is to protect the private property of citizens and of the water company, which is, after all, comprised of individuals that aspire to earn a profit. And should one entity – whether that be the citizens or the water company – act by force against the other, the proper role of government is then to act by force against the aggressor in order that justice be upheld.