Editor’s Note: Mr. Patrick, Manager of the New Albany (Indiana) Chamber of Commerce, is enrolled in a course in Economics at the Southeastern Center of Indiana University at Jeffersonville. The following article is his answer to a question assigned by the instructor from the textbook used in the class.
Textbook: Economics—An Introduction to Analysis and Policy, George Leland Bach, Professor and Head, Department of Economics, Carnegie Institute of Technology; Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1957
QUESTION 3, p. 488: If the demand for basic farm products is in fact substantially inelastic, is there any way the government can help farmers except through output-restriction programs?
This Question is only partly, and not even primarily, a question in economics. To answer it adequately it is first necessary to define what government is and what its proper functions are. In order to find out what government really is, a person has merely to run a red light while a traffic policeman is watching, or refuse to pay the portion of his federal taxes going for defense purposes as a Cincinnati clergyman did not long ago, or violate acreage limitations on a crop as a Hoosier farmer did, with the result that his tractor was seized and sold just a few days ago. It quickly becomes apparent, when tested in some such manner as these, that government basically is force—the organized force of society.
The real question then becomes: what is the proper use of force? It is certainly inherent in the fact that the Creator—call him by whatever name we will: God or First Cause or some other term—in giving man life, gave him the right to preserve and defend his life, and hence, to defend those possessions he has which sustain his life. So man possesses the right to defend his life and property, using force in their defense, if need be.
As populations have grown and relations among people have become more complex, men have pooled a major portion of their right to use force in organizations which we call governments and have turned over to these organizations much of the responsibility for defending life and property.
Improper Use of Force
It may well be "more blessed to give than to receive," but the right to use force to defend our life and the things that sustain our life certainly does not imply the right to force others to give also, through taxation, to support the needy, be they farmers or not, nor does it imply the right to impose our will upon others nor to compel others to do "what is best for them" in our opinion.
The Constitution of the United States reflected the thinking of men who had studied closely and thought deeply about the nature of man, the sources of power or force, and the proper functions of government, because they had lived close to much misuse and abuse of government power. The document was influenced by the thought of men such as John Locke, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson.
Among its framers were men who had personally witnessed how power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, so it spells out the limited powers of the federal government and makes it clear that the residual powers lie with the people primarily and with the states.
The proper use of the force of government might be defined as to defend the life and property of all citizens equally, to protect all willing exchange and restrain all unwilling exchange, to suppress and penalize all fraud, all misrepresentation, all violence, and all predatory practice, to maintain a common justice under law, and to keep the records necessary to these functions. This is a bigger assignment than governments generally have been able to perform adequately. Let government do these things and do them well and leave other activities to the willing, creative efforts of free men.
On February 16, 1887, President Grover Cleveland vetoed House Bill No. 10203 which proposed to enable the Commissioner of Agriculture to extend aid to drought-stricken farmers in Texas. His veto was based on the lack of any authority in the Constitution for such aid and upon the fact that the service or benefit of the general public was not involved. The Constitution contains no provision for legislation to assist any special group—agriculture, business, labor, or what have you. The fact that governmental powers have been misused in the past does not make it right to misuse them now.
I cannot escape the conclusion that the way for the government to help farmers is for it to get out of the business of passing special legislation for them or for business or for labor and let these groups seek solutions to their problems by their own initiative, expressed individually or through their associations, acting voluntarily.
Ideas on Liberty
A Futile Life
Life is infinitely less important than freedom. A free man has a value to himself and perhaps to his time; a ward of the state is useless to himself—useful only as so many foot-pounds of energy serving those who manage to set themselves above him. A people which has lost its freedom might better be dead, for it has no importance in the scheme of things except as an evil power behind a dictator. In our hearts we all despise the man who wishes the state to take care of him, who would not rather live meagerly as he pleases than suffer a fat and regimented existence. Those who are not willing to sacrifice their lives for their liberty have never been worth saving.
MAXWELL ANDERSON, The Guaranteed Life