A documentary examination of freeloading—by the poor, by corporations, and by the rest of us. [Dir: NA/ Journalist: John Stossel/ 50 min/ Documentary-Educational/ Individualism, John Stossel]
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Feeling tired, drained of life? You may have parasites. In fact—as this film shows—in an economic sense, we all do. While most people go through life pulling their own weight, a significant number do not, and even many of us “responsible” people are draining life out of others in small ways.
The image of the social parasite that usually comes to mind is the able-bodied panhandler, and that is one example of freeloading shown here. ABC’s John Stossel demonstrates that many “homeless” panhandlers are indeed just freeloaders. Stossel shows this by offering employment with round-trip transportation to a dozen or so making the “will work for food” pitch. They all say they’ll come to work, but only one shows up. As you probably suspected, the truth is that many don’t want work. They are simply living at the expense of caring people. But, welfare aside, at least this kind of freeloading occurs as a voluntary transaction.
A second category of freeloaders Stossel examines, corporate welfare beneficiaries, use the force of government to get what they want. Stossel confronts both the chairman of Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), generally considered one of the most subsidized companies in the U.S., and a subsidized ballpark owner. It’s a pleasure to see such people on the hot seat, trying and failing to defend their right to feed at the public trough. Stossel does a particularly good job with ADM, cutting through obfuscations that many journalists would have been unable to untangle.
The third kind of freeloading Stossel examines is middle-class in nature: those small compromises people make with private property, like keeping that extra change the clerk gave by mistake, taking towels and ashtrays from hotels, etc. These are small things, but they are nonetheless drains on other people.
So why does any of this matter? Because, Stossel argues, freeloading undermines the functioning of a voluntary society. To begin with, it destroys trust, and trust is required for cooperation. Freeloading makes our already anonymous world just that much more isolating. For example, it leads to people who are in genuine distress going without help because they are suspected of faking. Another problem with freeloading is that it makes everything more expensive, because sooner or later somebody has to pay. But, worst of all, freeloading begets more freeloading. It creates a popular “everyone is doing it” cynicism about private property that effectively legitimizes theft.
All this is presented in the very well organized and remarkably evenhanded manner that defines Stossel’s style. This film will be of strong interest to anyone concerned about the widespread decline in personal responsibility.