Over the past half century, federal spending on social programs has risen like a bubbling cauldron. In 1964, it amounted to less than one-quarter of the U.S. budget. Today it accounts for about two-thirds. What effect has the spending trend had on the American psyche? Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs offers a brilliant analogy to help us grasp the transformation.
A salmon trap, also called a pound net, is simple but ingenious, Higgs explains in the Spring 2014 issue of The Independent Review. It’s sort of like a one-way funnel. The deeper a fish swims into the trap, the harder it is to escape. It has long been banned in U.S. waters, but its design lives on, figuratively speaking, in various political schemes that direct people toward dependence on the state.
“As a salmon’s ‘mind’ tells it not to turn back, so the human mind, especially when bewitched by government propaganda and statist ideology, tells a typical person not to turn back,” Higgs writes. “Having lost the capacity for assuming individual responsibility, people are fearful of taking on such responsibilities as their forebears did routinely.”
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The Salmon Trap: An Analogy for People’s Entrapment by the State, by Robert Higgs (The Independent Review, Spring 2014)
[This post first appeared in the April 15, 2014, issue of The Lighthouse. For a free subscription to the Independent Institute's weekly newsletter, enter your email address here.]