Cannibals at the Gates!

Jacopo Ripanda's vision of Hannibal's Alpine campaign ca. 1510, Capitoline Museums, Rome || Wikimedia Commons

People are either cannibals or creators. The fundamental difference between the two is how in their opinion the world works. What to do when you’re hungry – eat a neighbour or come up with a solution to growing vegetables in the middle of winter? Is the world a “zero-sum game” in which one can prosper only if others suffer? Yes would be the answer of a cannibal.

The logic of “stealing” and “creating” is reflected in socialism ideology. After all, communists were not the first ones to draw attention to the fact that some people live in better conditions than others. So they identified the main cause of poverty: the rich. All the claims that capital owners pocket the added value created by workers are nothing else but a more eloquent way of saying that the wealthy are rich because they feed on the poor.

The “zero-sum game” logic is also prevalent in the old question of why some countries are more prosperous than others (first raised by Adam Smith). There are plenty explanations for that, including the “North–South” narrative. First, Europeans live better than Africans, because the former were first to exploit the latter. Second, Africans simply cannot live better than Europeans, unless they start to exploit them. The understanding of this phenomenon comes from the pre-industrial times, the major part of the human history. Until the Industrial Revolution, farmland determined the level of economic prosperity. Regardless of crafts and trade, due to the massive scale of agriculture more land meant more goods and more wealth. No surprise that such an understanding developed in a world in which all the land had already been shared. Cannibalism in the form of taking over neighbour’s land was the only path to prosperity.

Technology and free movement of goods, capital and people of the 20th century have destroyed all the “zero-sum game” presumptions. The level of living improved and you don’t need your neighbour to starve in order to be more successful. On the contrary, your neighbour’s well-being means a better life for you. And needles to say, this applies both to people and countries.

However, even the twentieth century of tanks, plains and mineral fertilizer did not eradicate cannibalism. While some countries saw a source of welfare in capitalism – production and trade; others found it in cannibalism. To put it simply, Lebensraum developed from the German belief that they “lacked” land to improve their living, while the East had “too much” land. And unfortunately, cannibals still exist in the 21st century – in the form of employers sacking elderly workers to make place for the youth and all those who believe that migrants simply take “our” job places so we’d better not let them over our borders and the likes.

All aspects of life that push aside creators, businessmen and free trade are incubators for cannibalism. Want to live a better life? Protest instead of working. Take advantage of the welfare created by others instead of securing your well-being on your own. How does Greece want to solve its debt problems? By defaulting instead of dismissing bureaucrats and creating favourable business environment.

In her novel “Atlas Shrugged” Ayn Rand describes a dystopian future in which business and creation of goods are replaced by redistribution. So in the end, society degenerates and is impoverished. Europe will face the same consequences if it does not stop feeding cannibals. It is no fun fighting a screaming minority on strike that shows no respect for the property of others but think of what would happen if the minority became a majority? “Hannibal is at the gates!” cried Romans in 216 B.C. after a landslide defeat at Cannes. We need such an eye-opener already today.