Theft is Legal: Gain Perspective from 13 Economic Stories and Concepts
By: Svetoslav. S. Elenkov
Publisher: Outskirts Press
Publication Date: January 2013
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
The distribution of wealth, the battle between the “haves” and “have-nots,” and the profit motives of capitalism – are these things bad or a necessary, and long-term, means to achieve a higher standard of living for everybody? In his new book, Theft is Legal, author Svetoslav Elenkov argues that while capitalism has some problems, it is far better than the alternative, which he proposes is socialism.
Elenkov begins his book by giving an overview of his early life under socialist rule in Bulgaria. He saw firsthand just what a socialist society can do to a community. The decay of the buildings, the dearth of food, and hyperinflation were all things he was forced to live with. One story he shared that truly brought the issue of hyperinflation home was how one day, on the way home from school, he stopped at a bakery for a pastry. His father had given him 20 leva (the currency in Bulgaria) for a special treat. Unfortunately, the least expensive delicacy was priced at 25 leva so the young boy had to go without. The next day, his father gave him 40 leva but by that afternoon the pastry’s price had jumped to 50 leva! Each day Elenkov came in with more money, and each day, the pastry’s price had increased beyond his meager funds. By the end of the week, the pastry was priced at 1000 leva! The youngster never did get his treat.
Fast forward to the day Elenkov and his family were allowed to immigrate to the United States where they would live under the rule of capitalism. Having now lived under both systems, Elenkov shares what he has learned about the two opposing forms of government. After a brief synopsis of life in Bulgaria, Elenkov gets into the meat of his book with a discussion of what capitalism is, its pros and cons, and how there is an inevitable cycle of capitalism leading to socialism, which in time leads back to capitalism. Indeed, many of the points he makes about the metamorphosis can be seen in the United States today. The author argues that a major component to capitalism is competition which leads to innovation. But as those who are innovative prosper, the disparity between them and those less inventive grows. This causes unrest, and the government steps in to redistribute the wealth and slap more and more regulations on those who benefit most from the wealth (typically businesses). With less incentive, productivity declines, living standards drop and eventually socialism steps in to try and equally draw everybody up out of poverty. Then, proposes the author, the reverse happens, leading to the eventual collapse of the socialist state. Elenkov makes it very clear that he feels capitalism is superior and this forms the basis for the rest of Theft is Legal.
Once his argument for capitalism is complete, Elenkov explores various ideas, concepts, and real-life problems and offers his suggestions on how best to attack each problem via the concepts behind capitalism. From a discussion on why starting your own insurance company is better than the system now in place, to how government habitually stands in the way of businesses, Elenkov is full of ideas. To help readers visualize the currency issues he discusses, there’s a chapter devoted to an imaginary island, where the currency of pumpkin seeds is replaced by magical leaves by an unscrupulous lender that draws interesting parallels to today’s banking problems.
There are thirteen chapters in this fairly brief 84-page book. With an easy, well-flowing writing style that doesn’t get bogged down with technical terms, it can easily be read in one sitting. The points the author makes are valid, and he certainly has the background to make compelling arguments. He strongly believes that free markets and individual freedoms, free from government meddling, is the best method for bringing prosperity to all. With the brief nature of the text, it is impossible to present detailed arguments on so many topics and so some of the ideas may seem overly simplistic. Further discussion of each is needed although this book is a good starting point for additional discussions.
Quill says: A good, easy-reading account of the perils of socialism and how to avoid the traps that can lead to the collapse of capitalism.