The Bait & The Hook


Dr. Carson is Professor of American History at Grove City College, Pennsylvania.

Man’s dominion over the animal kingdom is often precariously maintained. Most animals have some one trait or more which makes them superior in that re­spect to man. They can run, fly, or swim faster, can inject a venom, can bite, are large and powerful, are small and difficult to locate, can go through places which men avoid, or have some other capacity which makes them difficult for man to dominate. Moreover, most animals do not submit readily to man’s dominion; they attempt to elude him when he tries to capture them and try to escape once cap­tured. In a sense, it is valid to say that animals relish their freedom — that is, like to follow their in­stincts, to go where they will, to roam in that niche of nature that is particularly suited to them. First and last, men have de­voted a great deal of energy and ingenuity in order to snare, catch, land, capture, trap, hook, corral, pen, and fence animals. Some of these methods have become stereo­typed and are virtually universal. They frequently involve efforts to conceal from the animal what is being done. A runaway hog may be captured by laying down a trail of corn that will lead him back to the pen. It may be necessary when he gets in sight of the pen to drive him in with sticks. Mice are ap­prehended by setting a trap with cheese. Larger animals are cap­tured by baiting a steel trap, or a box, with some delicacy prized by the animal sought.

Perhaps more people in our era devote more ingenuity and effort to catching fish than to the cap­ture of any other animal. It is a game which many find endlessly fascinating. The classic device for catching a fish is to bait a hook with a worm and dangle it in the water. Ideally, the worm is stretched over the hook in such a way that the fish will swallow the hook before he knows he has any­thing but the worm. Once the hook is set, the more the fish pulls to try to get away, the deeper the hook fastens into him. Much more sophisticated equipment is now common, including artificial lures, rods and reels, and so on. Fisher­men pride themselves on the tech­niques by which they lure the fish to his death.

Gaining Dominion Over Men

Some men have devoted a great deal of energy and ingenuity, too, to gaining dominion over other men. Strangely enough, it appears that men are more susceptible to domination by force or the threat of force than are many animals. Since men are more intelligent than animals, they recognize a broader spectrum of dangers; their efforts to avoid injury often allow them to be dominated by the presence of force. At any rate, force usually has been used to some extent by those who would gain dominion over men. Quite often, this use of force has been accompanied by a rationale and religious or social sanctions.

In America in the twentieth century, very subtle stratagems have been used to gain and extend control over men, the instrument of control being government. The necessity for stratagems can be found in the American outlook and the system of government. Ac­cording to the general belief, Americans are free and are de­voted to keeping and extending that freedom. Those who govern are not supposed to seek power over their fellow Americans, do not profess to want it, and would be loath to exercise it if they had it. Our lore has it that those in government are our servants and we their masters. Yet, govern­ment has vastly extended its con­trol over the lives of the citizenry in the twentieth century. Those who have to face the assorted bureaucrats who exercise political power should have little doubt that the bureaucrats are the mas­ters and we the servants.

This extension of government power has been subtly advanced, acquired, and exercised in ways analogous to capturing animals. The hook has been baited, the trap set with goodies, and the path to the pen strewn with morsels. The figure of speech commonly used to describe such tactics — one associated with English Fabian so­cialists — is the carrot and the stick. This suggests that we are led and driven along the way to subjection to the state — or to some collectivity — by alternate and judicious uses of the carrot and the stick. The phrase is graph­ic and appropriate, but the bait and the hook may be even more apt. The bait by which people have been led to take the hook of gov­ernment power has often concealed the hook much better than a car­rot conceals a stick. No matter what figure is used, the important point is that subtle stratagems have helped politicians and their spokesmen gain control over Amer­icans.

A Case of Urban Renewal

For example, the political leaders of the community where I live are trying to get an Urban Re­newal project underway. The in­habitants were surveyed to find out what they thought of Urban Renewal, among other things. A majority of respondents favored the participation of the community in Urban Renewal. Some, though opposed to such programs as Ur­ban Renewal, said that since it was in operation, this community might as well get its share. The newspaper report of the survey gave no indication that those who felt this way were looking beyond what they took to be the benefits of the program. They took the bait, apparently unaware of the hook it concealed.

Of course, the hook was there; a hook by which the citizens could be reeled in and brought under governmental power in new ways. Already the power is being wielded here, as in so many other com­munities. In order to participate in Urban Renewal, it is necessary for a municipality to have a build­ing code, among other things. The code must be the one recommended by the appropriate agency of the Federal government, or one com­parable to it. A permit must be obtained before projected con­struction can begin. A new struc­ture must be a minimum distance from the boundary of adjoining land, must conform to various structural requirements, must have a certain minimum of electrical outlets, and so on. An official, or officials, of the local government is empowered to inspect struc­tures and obtain their conformity to his interpretation of the code. Thus, what was once private prop­erty and the affair of the owner is brought under the control of political power which reaches back to Washington.

In this case, the hook was not baited with a live worm; an ar­tificial lure was used. The notion that it is desirable for a community to get its "share" of the Fed­eral bounty passed out in Urban Renewal is not based upon any­thing substantial so far as the in­dividual members of the commun­ity are concerned. That people would want their share would be understandable, even if deplorable, if the Federal largess were di­vided equally among the citizens.

Artificial Lures

When a hook is baited with a worm, the fish that swallows it gets something. It is not so for most people with Urban Renewal. All taxpayers contribute to the support of it, but few reap any direct benefits. Someone who covets another’s land may be able to in­duce the powers that be to confis­cate it and sell it to him. Some of those in the construction business may be provided with building op­portunities. Most of the citizenry get nothing, however. Some of them have their dwellings and businesses taken from them and torn down. They will be displaced from their neighborhoods and places where they do business. Many will suffer the inconvenience of not having familiar stores in which to shop, or the pressure of overcrowding that will occur. If new buildings are ever built to replace the old ones, all will, of course, receive the "social benefit" of viewing what some bureaucrat has decided is architecturally con­gruous for that neighborhood. The government of the community in which I live does not pay divi­dends; "shares" of Federal bounty are not distributed among the cit­izens.

In the Transport Field

Sometimes the bait is real, sometimes not, but the bait and the hook is a well-established prac­tice of governments in the United States. It has been used for nearly a hundred years now. It may well be that the first uses were not in­tended as bases for extending gov­ernment power, but those intent upon such extension have found the grant of any government favor a handy excuse for their purposes. One of the first major forays of the Federal government into the field was the granting of land and the making of loans for the con­struction of transcontinental rail­roads during and after the Civil War. States and local governments also granted various favors to railroad builders.

These grants and loans were not originally tied to any regulation of the railroads. But by the 1870′s pressure was mounting for regu­lation, particularly in the Mid­west. Initially, states began lay­ing down rules for the operation of railroads within their borders. The 1880′s brought Federal intervention by way of the Interstate Commerce Act. Since that time, the railroads have been seriously regulated and interfered with by governments. They have been the subject of rate fixing, antitrust legislation, merger control, special legislation for employees, Inter­state Commerce Commission and court decisions as to what services to provide, provisions regarding the issuance of passes, and so on.

The justification for this regu­lation has not been based pri­marily upon the special favors initially granted to railroads; this has been a subsidiary point in the argument for control. Instead, the main argument has been that rail­roads provide an important "pub­lic" service, that they are a sort of public utility. Yet, this is linked to the original justification for making the grants and loans, that is, that it was in the public inter­est to have the railroads built. The bait and the hook were joined to­gether through this "public in­terest" justification.

Another bait used in transpor­tation was (and is) the charter or franchise. The franchise is an old mercantilistic device for granting a monopoly, but in recent times it has served as the basis for ex­tensive regulation. Street railways usually were developed by private companies which had franchises to do so. In the course of time, these companies, which later supple­mented or replaced streetcars with uses, were so intricately con­trolled that they could no longer make sufficient profit to stay in business. In many large cities to­day, the franchises have been taken over by agencies of the municipal governments, such as port authorities, and are operated at a loss. The bait was the fran­chise; the hook was the regulation.

Other Modern Interventions

In the twentieth century, of course, this technique of extending government power has become a fine art. Labor unions are granted exemptions and special privileges, farmers are granted subsidies and special concessions, and businesses get government contracts. Banks get charters, the deposits of their clientele insured, and guaranteed mortgages. Schools get state aid and then Federal aid. Manufac­turers are enabled to maintain high prices by selling their "sur­plus" to government for stockpil­ing. The aged get pensions and the young get aid to dependent children. Special loans are made available to those in certain cate­gories who want to buy a home. Shipping companies and airlines are subsidized. Hospitals are built with the aid of government sub­sidies. Grants-in-aid are provided for states and municipalities.

Those of various skills and pro­fessions get licenses which entitle them to practice or perform and exclude those who do not possess such authorization.

The bait is tantalizing indeed. The force of government is used to attain for men and groups what they might not be able to obtain if they relied on voluntary meth­ods. However well it may be con­cealed, the hook is always there. The bait may be nearly consumed before the hook is felt. Farm sub­sidies carry with them crop re­strictions, allotments, and, on oc­casion, quality controls. Farmers lose significant control over the use of their land. Banks are sub­jected to government audits, the fixing of interest rates, and to var­ious pressures from government agencies. In many ways, banks have become an arm of the gov­ernment. Labor unions have to submit to "cooling off" periods before they can strike, are sub­ject to the National Labor Rela­tions Board, are generally forbid­den to strike against government, and the day appears to be ap­proaching when many of them will be forbidden by law to strike against private employers. Em­ployers are subjected to arbitrary rulings by the courts and the Na­tional Labor Relations Board, and have, in many instances, lost au­thority over their employees. At any rate, an individual employee may have to join a union to work at the job for which he is trained, may have to accept the decision of the majority of those in his in­dustry as to whether he will work or strike, is subject to the courts and National Labor Relations Board as to what his "rights" are, and may be forced by government to work or lose his employment.

Recently, some aluminum com­panies decided to raise their prices. This conflicted with gov­ernment policy; and, when the companies appeared to be deter­mined upon their course, the Fed­eral government announced that it would sell part of the aluminum in its stockpile. If this were chil­dren playing games, it would be appropriate to say that turn about is fair play. After all, the com­panies had been favored by the government purchase of aluminum in the first place. But this was an irresponsible use by government of money taken from the citizenry. Even so, it is an example of taking the bait and then getting the hook.

Subsidized and Controlled

Public schools have received the favor of monies from state and Federal government. In conse­quence, they have been subjected to progressively greater control by these governments. Not much has been made of the progressive centralization of control over local schools by state governments, though it has gone on apace. Now, Federal control is following in this path. A magazine article pointed out the slipshod way in which those holding out the bait of Federal aid attempt to conceal the hook:

Those who favor federal interven­tion generally claim it is not intended to usurp the power of local school authorities to run their schools as they see fit. Federal aid legislation is almost always prefaced by such a disclaimer, as was the National De­fense Education Act when it became law in 1958. Despite its statement that nothing in the Act "shall be con­strued to authorize any department, agency, officer or employee of the United States to exercise any direc­tion, supervision or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any education institution or school sys­tem" this Act goes on to set forth numerous regulations and standards which local schools must meet to qual­ify for federal assistance!

As one teacher said:

To get this money we have to accept and adopt the course of study out­lined and specified by the federal government through the state de­partment. We have to permit inspec­tion trips by state employees who re­ceive part of their money from the federal government. We have to hire teachers whose qualifications are ap­proved by the same groups. We have to send our teachers to conferences designated by these authorities.1

Examples are too numerous to go into in detail. There is the in­trusion into the lives of recipients of welfare checks by social work­ers. There is the portending con­trol of medicine by the Federal government. There are the intri­cate regulations of radio, televi­sion, airlines, and shipping. There is talk of compulsory steriliza­tion of repeaters among unwed mothers. There is the ubiquitous spread of government power into virtually every area into which it is preceded by favors.

The Will to Resist

Just as the fish drives the barbs deeper when he struggles against the hook, so, quite often, do those who resist government control find themselves subjected to greater force. Many businessmen have long since ceased to fight the ex­tension of government power over them. Just as a wary fish might do, they try by gentle tugs on the line to get more leeway within which to operate, unaware that they are being worn down by their efforts and made ready for land­ing. Many businessmen have learned that if they resist, they will be subjected to harassment, to threatened prosecution under the antitrust laws, to close ex­amination of their income tax re­turns, to loss of government con­tracts, and to new regulations more onerous than the ones now applicable. Labor union leaders are beginning to feel the hook subject to threats that they either do voluntarily what government wants or be forced to do it. Any resistance by the medical profes­sion is likely to be interpreted as an excuse for tightening control. Businessmen who read the hand­writing on the wall may know that if they do not "voluntarily" accept government guidelines for prices they will be subject to government-fixed prices.

Of course, there are aspects of the government’s extension of favors and force to which the analogy of the fisherman with his bait and hook is not appropriate. The fisherman provides his own bait and tackle as well as his boat. The government, by contrast, pro­vides its favors from money taken from the taxpayer by force or the threat of force. That is, our goods are first taken from us by govern­ment which then uses them to entice us into its orbit of control. Some do, of course, receive favors who paid no taxes; others receive more than they paid in. But the redistribution features do not al­ter the nature of what is being done. We are getting hooked when we reach for the bait that was taken from us in the first place.

The Gradual Approach to Full-Blown Tyranny

The above tactics are the Amer­ican version of Fabian socialism. They are the means by which Americans are drawn step by step into what would be billed as socialism if we were being se­mantically honest. More precisely, it is the gradual development of statism. Each time some sucker reaches for the bait and is hooked, the power of government is increased. Each extension of government power by regulation, control, restriction, and so on is at the expense of the control by in­dividuals of their own lives. This power is usually vested in the assorted members of an expanded and expanding bureaucracy, in in­dependent commissions, in bureaus headed by cabinet members, in experts, in that numerous clan who make their living by deciding what prices others shall charge for their services, how many acres farmers can plant to what crop, whether train services shall be continued, what union shall be recognized by what company, the proper length for commercials on television, and so on ad nauseam. These bureaucrats are tyrants, but, oh, such petty tyrants! Men might fight a Genghis Khan, but it is difficult to know what weap­ons to use against men whose tyranny consists of arbitrary de­cisions about whether a railroad shall be permitted to discontinue a freight station in a hamlet of 200 people or not, whether each bathroom in a house must be vented or whether one vent can serve all of them, whether a new product shall be subjected to an­other round of testing or not, and so on. Prudent men hesitate to rush to arms to make war on mos­quitos. Yet, when all the bits of petty tyranny are added, the total is a monumental tyranny which filters into every area of life.

According to the lore of fisher­men — not always the most reliable — some fish become unusually canny. There are stories, at least, of very large fish who survive in a limited area the attempts of fishermen to catch them. At most, they only nibble at the bait; they cannot be snared by the hook. Whether or not there are such fish, I do not know, but the stories offer a valuable lesson for men. The best way — the only sure way — to avoid the hook is to refuse the bait. No sensible man today has any reason to doubt that Federal control will follow Federal aid, that govern­ment subsidies will be followed by government restrictions, that be­hind the attractive bait there are the ugly barbs of political power. Even the nibbler can be caught by the crafty fisherman, for such a fisherman tugs gently at the line to get the fish to jump at the bait and get himself hung on the hook. Men who seek dominion over other men in our day have become crafty fishermen. Only those fish are safe who refuse the bait. Only those people remain free who renounce governmental favors.



1 "The Real Crisis in Our Schools: Federal Domination," Nation’s Business, XLVIII (March, 1960), 59.



A Consequence of Compulsion

When the law, by means of its necessary agent, force, imposes upon men a regulation of labor, a method or a subject of educa­tion, a religious faith or creed — then the law is no longer nega­tive; it acts positively upon people. It substitutes the will of the legislator for their own wills; the initiative of the legislator for their own initiatives. When this happens, the people no longer need to discuss, to compare, to plan ahead; the law does all this for them. Intelligence becomes a useless prop for the people; they cease to be men; they lose their personality, their liberty, their property.



February 1967

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November 2014

It's been 40 years since F. A. Hayek received his Nobel Prize. His insights, particularly on the distribution of knowledge and the impossibility of economic planning, remain hugely important today. In this issue, we look back on the influence of his work. Max Borders and Craig Biddle debate whether liberty must be defended from one absolute foundation, further reflections on Scottish secession, and how technology is already changing our world for the better--including how robots, despite the unease they cause, will only accelerate this process.
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