All Commentary
Friday, July 1, 1960

Adult Delinquency

Admiral Ben Moreell is the famed founder of the Navy’s wartimeSea Bees. He was the first (1946) non-Annapolis, four-star admiral since the establishment of the Naval Academy. At present, Admiral Moreell is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Americans for Constitu­tional Action.

We hear much these days about “juvenile delinquency.” Most of us are deeply concerned about this problem. But what about “adult delinquency”? I confess that I am an adult delinquent. I suspect that many others throughout America should be similarly tagged.

What is “delinquency”? My dic­tionary defines it as “failure, omis­sion, or violation of duty.” To have a useful concept of “delinquency” we need a yardstick to measure its degree. Such a yardstick is the “gap” between a man’s actual achievements and what he might have achieved if he had made full use of his God-given talents. Only you can know the span of that

This article is from an address of February 4, 1960 to The Women’s Patriotic Conference on National Defense, Inc., Washington, D.C. gap in your case; only I can know it in mine.

If I have the natural talents to do great things in engineering or science or the church or civic affairs or elsewhere, and those talents are little used, I am de­linquent. And the measure of my delinquency is the spread between what I did and what I might have done. Thus, the wayward youth or the moron may be far less delin­quent than those of us who, though we have been blessed with many talents and opportunities to de­velop and use them, have failed to do so.

Wherein have we failed? First of all, my generation has squan­dered its legacy. We were be­queathed, by our political fore­bears, an unearned heritage—the greatest citadel of individual free­dom and opportunity the world has ever seen. We have failed to strengthen that heritage, or even to preserve it. We have permitted its structure to be eroded and its foundations weakened to the point where we are in grave danger of losing the entire edifice. Should that debacle occur, we will have deprived our posterity of their rightful heritage of freedom. The gap between what we did and what we should have done is great in­deed!

I, and millions like me who should have known better, have permitted this to happen. Our re­treat along the road back to serf­dom has accelerated to a point where those noble words of our National Anthem, “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave,” have been drained of meaning. Truly, most of our gen­eration are “adult delinquents”! To measure that delinquency, let us see how “free” we Americans are today and, equally important, how “brave”!

Ignorance No Excuse

No one who has given serious thought to the things we have been doing to our social structure in recent years can claim ignorance of their ultimate effect. There are warning signs on every page of recorded history. But we deliber­ately ignore them. Miss Edith Hamilton, world authority of the Greco-Roman civilization, recently made this statement:

“Is it rational that now, when the young people may have to face problems harder than we faced… we are giving up the study of how the Greeks and Romans pre­vailed magnificently in a barbaric world; the study, too, of how that triumph ended, how a slackness and softness finally came over them to their ruin? In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security, a comforta­ble life, and they lost all—security and comfort and freedom….

“Are we not growing slack and soft in our political life? When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to the State, but the State to give to them, when the freedom they wished most for was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again. Is that not a chal­lenge?”

There are lessons to be learned from the experience of the men of old. But we are inclined to dis­miss the ancient wisdom because our modern “social engineers” al-sure us that our new knowledge of technology and civics, of economics and human nature, make those les­sons obsolete. We ignore them at our peril!

If we are in trouble today, it is not because we have lacked prophets who pointed out the dan­gers besetting the course we have chosen.

On August 11, 1846, the London Times published this warning: “The greatest tyranny has the smallest beginnings. From prece­dents overlooked, from remon­strances despised, from grievances treated with ridicule, from power­less men oppressed with impunity, and overbearing men tolerated with complacence, springs the ty­rannical usage which generations of wise and good men may here­after perceive and lament and re­sist in vain. At present, common minds no more see a crushing tyr­anny in a trivial unfairness or a ludicrous indignity than the eye, uninformed by reason, can discern the oak in the acorn…. Hence, the necessity of denouncing with unwearied and even troublesome perseverance a single act of op­pression. Let it alone and it stands on record. The country has allowed it, and when it is at last provoked to a late indignation, it finds itself gagged with the record of its own ill compulsion.”

It requires no great feat of memory to recall the many inci­dents in our own last quarter cen­tury when we could well have profited from this admonition.

Words of Wisdom

In 1860, in his “Essay on Repre­sentative Government,” John Stu­art Mill stated:

“A people may prefer a freegovernment, but if, from indo­lence, or carelessness, or coward­ice, or want of public spirit, they are unequal to the exertions neces­sary for preserving it; if they will not fight for it when it is directly attacked; if they can be deluded by the artifices used to cheat them out of it; if by momentary dis­couragement or temporary panic, or a fit of enthusiasm for an in­dividual, they can be induced to lay their liberties at the feet even of a great man, or trust him with powers which enable him to sub­vert their institutions; in all these cases they are more or less unfit for liberty; and though it may be for their good to have had it even for a short time, they are unlikely long to enjoy it.”

What words of wisdom—and how applicable to our current na­tional predicament!

We come now to this pertinent question: If these warnings are valid and we have failed to heed them, what freedoms have we lost as a result of our “indolence, or carelessness, or cowardice, or want of public spirit”?

Freedom in society means that persons as well as their property are secure from arbitrary inva­sion. To the extent that a man’s life and goods are at the disposal of another, he is not free! The degree to which our government has taken control in these areas of life and property marks the degree of its departure from our original principles.

The Greatest Intrusions

It is my firm conviction that the two greatest intrusions on indi­vidual freedom in the history of our Republic are, first, the Six­teenth Amendment to the Consti­tution, which was ratified in 1913, and which provides for the gradu­ated income tax; and, second, the Act of May 18, 1917, whereby Congress “authorized and or­dained” a conscript army for use in foreign war.

Here is what a great scholar has to say about these two enact­ments. I quote from the late John W. Burgess, Emeritus Professor of Political Science and Constitu­tional Law at Columbia Univer­sity. In his book, Recent Changes in American Constitutional Theory, (first printing 1923; sec­ond printing 1933), he wrote:

“We have, therefore, under this Sixteenth Amendment as I inter­pret it, an investment of the gov­ernment with entirely unlimited power in the levy and collection of the most comprehensive of all taxes, the income tax, the tax which can take, thus unlimited, the entire product of all property and of all labor. There is now nothing in our Constitution, as I under­stand it, to prevent the govern­ment from exercising complete arbitrary despotic and discrimi­natory powers over the property of the individual through the levy and collection of this unlimited tax upon incomes.”

And with respect to conscrip­tion for foreign wars Professor Burgess said: “From the point of view of the Constitutional im­munities of the individual against governmental power, this distinc­tion [i.e., that Congress had authority to organize and employ only volunteer forces in foreign war and reserve compulsory serv­ice for repelling invasion, sup­pressing insurrection and execu­ting the laws of the Union inter­nally] will be seen with a little re­flection to be most vital. For while Congress, that is, the government of the United States, can always, of its own motion, declare a for­eign war, it cannot, of itself alone, produce an invasion of the United States or an insurrection within the country. It depends upon other wills as to whether these condi­tions shall or shall not exist….

“Now the power in a govern­ment to conscript its citizens or subjects into its military service upon an occasion which it may, of its own motion, at any time, invent and perpetuate, amounts to a power to hold the people of the country under permanent military law, that is, to hold them under a law which is not limited by any Constitutional immunities protec­tive of the individual against gov­ernmental power….

“In view of these considera­tions, I cannot believe that the framers of our Constitution vested the power in the govern­ment to raise and employ con­script armies for, and in, foreign war. It is the most despotic power which government can exercise. It can be so exercised at any mo­ment, and on occasion created by government itself, as to sweep away every vestige of individual liberty and put the last drop of blood of every man, woman, and child in the country at the arbi­trary disposal of government.”

Here, then, according to Profes­sor Burgess, we have surrendered to government our two most pre­cious natural rights, that is, the right to life and the right to ac­quire, preserve, and enjoy prop­erty which, in its ultimate effect, is the right to sustain life.

The Declaration of Independence says that men possess certain in­herent rights, being so endowed by their Creator. To secure their rights men established a govern­ment, and this government now turns about and impairs those rights.

What other rights have we lost? Among them is the right to own and hold gold, the right to privacy of records (that is, bank deposits, bank accounts, safe-deposit boxes), the right to privacy in one’s home, freedom to plant and raise such farm crops as one wills, protection from arbitrary actions by government which erode the values of our savings by inflation, and so forth. The list is long. We are subjected to compulsory par­ticipation in Social Security, man­datory wage rates, compulsory membership in labor organiza­tions, fixed rent controls, restric­tions on choice of tenants and pur­chasers of our property, and others.

Emergency Powers

I have in my library two sizable documents. One lists the “Emer­gency and War Powers of the President and of the Executive Branch of the Government ac­quired since 1933.” The other is entitled “Provisions of Federal Law Presently in Effect by Rea­son of the National Emergency Proclaimed by the President De­cember 16, 1950.”

The striking feature of both lists is the tenacity with which so-called “emergency measures” hang on long after the emergency has passed. There are many which have been carried forward from World War I! It appears that those who believe in concentration of power in the hands of the central government take advantage of every emergency to achieve great­er centralization; and they never let go!

Parenthetically, many of these same zealots for centralization now go further and ardently ad­vocate concentration of power in the hands of a world government to which they propose that we sur­render our national sovereignty. This would, in effect, make us largely subject to the control of those very “backward nations” who, it is claimed, are now in such dire need of our help!

Growth of Government

It is to be noted that every one of the controls and restrictions imposed on persons by the laws, rules, and regulations to which I have alluded, requires an enlarge­ment of the power of the central government in Washington. This has undermined personal liberty as well as the sovereignty and po­litical integrity of the individual states.

But there is more! The enor­mous growth of government has imposed a heavy tax burden on every citizen. But not even the ex­cessive taxation we now bear is sufficient to pay the mounting costs of government; so the gov­ernment resorts to inflation.

Competent economists, such as Colin Clark, basing their conclu­sions on studies of the financial be­havior of nations, have stated that when the tax take of government rises to the range of 20 to 25 per cent of the earned income of the people, large segments of the pop­ulation will demand an easing of the burden of direct taxes by in­creasing the volume of the money. This is inflation!

It has been demonstrated that once the government assumes re­sponsibility for the economic wel­fare of its citizens, the 20 to 25 per cent range in tax take of earned income is quickly reached. In the United States we are far beyond this point. We are now above 35 per cent! And the in­evitable progression appears to be on schedule, as indicated by the fact that from 1933 to 1955 there has been a 500 per cent increase in the money supply of the United States (that is, total deposits and currency outside banks) while the population increased only 32 per cent. In spite of the vastly in­creased productivity of our indus­trial machine, there has occurred, since 1933, a sharp decrease, some 55 per cent, in the purchasing power of our money!

Our Freedoms

It is unfortunate that we have forgotten the old adage: “Whoso controls our subsistence, controls us.” Professor F. A. Hayek cautioned us, “Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it is control of the means for all our ends.”

Freedom of worship is an empty thing if we are denied the finan­cial means to erect churches, pay our clergy, print religious litera­ture, and propagate our faith. Freedom of the press means noth­ing if we are deprived of the means to buy presses, type, and newsprint. And what meaning can be attached to free speech if we know that we must speak in a cer­tain way or else lose favor with those who control the food, cloth­ing, and shelter which we need to survive? Unless we have full free­dom in the economic realm, we cannot have full freedom in any other. Unless we have a society in which the producer enjoys the full fruits of his labor, our freedom is impaired precisely to the degree that political exactions deprive the man who works, whether with mind or muscle, of his production.

Slavery is commonly thought of as ownership of one man by an­other. But the slaveholder would not quibble about owning the man, provided he owns the products of the man’s labor! A slave, in other words, is a man to whom the right of economic freedom is denied. From this premise the denial of all other rights follows. Therefore, in any realistic discussion of free­dom, what happens in the eco­nomic realm is basic.

How much freedom have we lost in the economic realm? As I have stated, the latest statistics show that more than 35 per cent of the national earned income is now con­fiscated by all levels of govern­ment.

Where the Blame Lies

Where lies the blame for our current condition—so foreign to the promises of the original Amer­ican character and faith?

The fact is that all of us, you and I, must share the blame. Some­where we got off the track. Over the past 50 years we have encour­aged—nay, we have actively par­ticipated in—the propagation of a misplaced faith in the power of government to accomplish all sorts of social, economic, and even moral purposes. Implementing this faith we have thrust enormous powers upon government; or else, with great docility, we have acquiesced while the powers and functions of government have been extended, accelerated, and centralized. Such enhancement of political power at the expense of the natural rights of individuals is correctly labeled “socialism.”

The tendency of citizens in all walks of life is to be complacent about the advance of what might be called piecemeal socialism—po­litical intrusion that does not en­croach upon what each one con­ceives to be his own territory. We tend to be apathetic about the gen­eral socialistic drift. In many in­stances we actively support social­istic measures under the guise of “promoting prosperity” or “devel­oping the community.” But we should now be aware that what threatens to engulf us is total state socialism.

All those in positions to influ­ence public opinion have a duty to actively oppose socialism wher­ever it appears, because socialism is ancient tyranny under a modern disguise—even though it has en­listed some misguided idealism in its behalf. If the promise of Amer­ica is to be redeemed, we must op­pose state socialism on every level—philosophical and spiritual as well as economic and political. If our sole concern is merely that as­pect of socialism which directly confronts our own company or our own industry or our own com­munity, we may contribute to the advance of socialism on other fronts by our neglect, if not by our positive actions.

What is the current pattern of our behavior?

Common Taint

Unfortunately, many of the charges of inconsistency launched against us appear to have substan­tial basis in fact! For example, those of us in business acclaim the superior productivity of the free enterprise system, but we look for special privilege or government subsidies or loans when we can­not obtain funds from private sources. The farmer is proud of his individualism but strives for a politically guaranteed income and subsidized electricity, irriga­tion, and tools. The doctor is op­posed to socialized medicine, but wants government subsidies for training, research, and laborator­ies. The educator points to the de­plorable lowering of standards which results from political domi­nation of education—then insists that federal aids to education are essential for national survival! The scientist opposes any inter­ference with freedom of inquiry—then implores government to pro­vide generously for “research es­sential to the National Defense and the common welfare.” The union official extols “free Ameri­can labor”—then maintains that he must have special laws which confer upon him exclusive power to coerce and regiment his mem­bers, to abolish freedom of con­tract and to resort to intimidation and violence, all under the guise of “conserving labor’s gains.”

Young people want government to provide them with an education, a job, and a pension. Old peo­ple are content, for the moment, with generous retirement privi­leges. And the man-in-the-street demands from government a sub­sidized house, food, medical care, and an ephemeral thing called “economic security.”

And most of us know that, since government produces nothing, what it gives to one it must take away from someone else, with generous deductions for “handling charges” in the course of the transaction.

One wonders—is this in truth the “Home of the Brave”? Are brave men satisfied to live off the fruits of some other man’s labor?

Is our case hopeless? Must we surrender unconditionally and take what comes? No, not if we are dedicated to the restoration of our country as the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.”

A Positive Program

What specific steps must we take?

I believe that no one, no matter how exalted his position, can de­termine for 177 million people their day-to-day economic and so­cial decisions concerning such mat­ters as wages, prices, production, associations, and others. So I pro­pose that these decisions, and the problems connected therewith, be returned to the persons concerned.

This could be done in five steps as follows:

1.       Let us stop this uneasy drift toward collectivism by ending all further special privileges and pri­vate raids on the public treasury—whether conducted by labor unions, businessmen, farmers, or any other group. In one respect, this is the easiest step of all—we need only refrain from passing more socialistic laws. But we have become so addicted to socialism that it will be just as hard for us to break the habit as for an al­coholic to stop his compulsive drinking.

2.       Let us undertake at once an orderly demobilization of the bu­reaucracy by the progressive re­peal of the socialistic laws now on our books. This is the road back to social health and fiscal sanity, and it will be a struggle all the way; every pressure group in the nation will fight to retain its special privileges, subsidies, and govern­ment protection. But if freedom is to live, all politically privileged positions must go!

3.       Of the powers that remain in government, let us return as many as possible to the individual states. For, on the local level, the people can apply more critical scrutiny to the acts of their government and take corrective action.

4.         Let us resolve that never again will we yield to the seduction of the government pander who comes to us offering gifts, paid for with our own money, in return for a surrender of our natural rights.

5. Above all, let us hold high be­fore our eyes the banner of in­dividual moral responsibility, ac-knowledging that unless each one of us humbly tries to govern his actions by God’s will—as this is interpreted in such statements as the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount—he brings chaos into society and invites tyr­anny.




Ideas on Liberty

Abuse Freedom—Lose It

The weakness of a free society is the fact that so few of its people understand it. Far too many have the notion that to be free means to be unrestrained. To them it means freedom to deceive, freedom to exploit, freedom to malign, free­dom to steal (politely), freedom to lie (for a profit), freedom to avoid civic duty, freedom to dis­card moral values. Freedom, in short, to do as you please so long as you keep out of jail.

Few of those who hold this con­ception of freedom use all these forms of free expression. Some use one and some another—but all together gnaw away at the struc­ture that makes true freedom pos­sible.

Our earliest ancestors, who came to this wild land to escape the punitive restraints of monarchical society, knew that to find a dura­ble free order here they must first of all assume voluntary restraints. They regarded it as every freeman’s privilege to serve the com­munity. They were convinced that no free economy stood a chance of survival whose people felt no burning sense of responsibility to sacrifice as needed to maintain it. Freedom, in their language, meant being free to exercise this privi­lege, to perform civic duties con­scientiously, to serve God and one another as conditions might re­quire. They did not interpret free­dom as license to promote the good of any man, themselves included, at the cost of justice to another.

Freedom in their view was pri­marily justice—that gave every man the fullest and fairest oppor­tunity to make the most of what­ever was best in his make-up.

Whether or not our own free­dom will endure depends on which of these views predominates among our people at this crucial moment in their history.

From the March 1960 ‘Bankers” Bulletin, Bankers Commercial Corporation, New York City.

  • Admiral Ben Moreell (1892 – 1978) was the chief of the U.S. Navy's Bureau of Yards and Docks and of the Civil Engineer Corps. Best known to the American public as the Father of the Navy's Seabees, Moreell's life spanned eight decades, two world wars, a great depression and the evolution of the United States as a superpower. He was a distinguished Naval Officer, a brilliant engineer, an industrial giant and articulate national spokesman.