50 Years Ago: Human Nature, the Black Market and Socialism
When the war began we were told by those who claimed to know that there would be no “profiteering” in this war. Socialists smiled and were disbelieving, knowing that a system built on a foundation of private ownership and profit-making will go on producing evil results whether in peace or war. We smiled again when the News-Chronicle, nearly two years after the war began, said “the days of the profiteers in clothing and other necessities are numbered” (July 25th, 1941). We were not impressed with the story that the capitalist thistle would suddenly produce a crop of social figs because of the appointment of “34 Board of Trade inspectors” who were going to track down the “profiteers”. Nor were we mistaken. (. . .)
But, retorts the reformer, make the penalties more severe, copy Russia and Germany and introduce the death penalty, then it will cease. How little they know of that “human nature” they so often talk about. The history of capitalism has demonstrated beyond refutation that given the opportunity (the ownership of goods for sale and a ready market) and given the motive (big and quick profits) nothing will stop illicit deals in one form or another, from robbery and smuggling to black marketeering, and to the numerous operations that can be conducted just on the borderline of legality.