All Commentary
Tuesday, June 1, 1993

Advice to Youth Seeking to Go Down in History from the Editors of Time

If you go into politics, you are more likely to wind up a villain than a hero.

Last fall, Time magazine put out a special issue on “The Millennium,” a survey of the history of the past one thousand years. Among the offerings is a list of the ten “Greatest People” of this entire period. The list comes as something of a surprise, when placed alongside Time’s weekly editions. In their regular coverage, the editors dwell on political leaders, on the comings and goings of senators, presidents, and prime ministers. To the impressionable, this attention might suggest that politics is the most important thing in the world, and that rising high in government is the path to greatness.

Significantly, even Time’s own editors don’t seem to believe that. In identifying greatness, they virtually ignored politicians. Instead, they picked religious figures (St. Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther), scientists (Galileo, Albert Einstein), artists (Michelangelo, William Shakespeare, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), an inventor (Johannes Gutenberg), and an explorer (Christopher Columbus). Only one person on the list (Thomas Jefferson) had anything to do with politics.

While they were at it, the editors also compiled a list of the ten “Worst Villains” of the last one thousand years. All were political figures: Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Vlad the Impaler, Cesare Borgia, Ivan the Terrible, Robespierre, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, and Pol Pot.

The two listings taken together suggest a rather sobering lesson about going down in history: If you go into politics, you are more likely to wind up a villain than a hero.

James L. Payne

Controlling Government

But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is no doubt the primary control of the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

The Federalist

“One-for-All” Health Care: A Firsthand Account

I held an engineering position with an American company in Sao Paulo, Brazil, from 1957 to 1961. The government of President Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira had set up a “one-for-all” health care system, supported by premiums paid into it by people with incomes above an established minimum. The government subsidized poor and low-income people.

Several health care centers were set up, where medical needs would be determined in an interview, and doctors and hospitals would be assigned.

Every morning starting at 4 A.M., lines three blocks long would form at the centers. The first 100 patients would be admitted by 9 A.M., then wait inside till about 2 P.M. to be seen. Many in the lines had to return the next morning.

During my stay, both my children needed tonsillectomies, and my wife required a varicose vein operation. It took me a week to find out that I would have to wait 8 to 12 weeks. In addition, I would have to pay a fee commensurate with my above-average income.

I went private: all three operations were performed within three weeks for a cost of one monthly salary.

Eventually, all who would rather pay and get fast and reliable service, instead of waiting three months for the services of an unknown doctor, suspended payments for their state insurance premiums. I did too. The lines at the state health centers thinned: only low-income people and the poor lined up in the morning. In time, the government health program collapsed for insufficient funds.

—Arthur S. Keller

Property—the Secret of U.S. Economic Development

A farmer who owned the land on which Rochambeau’s troops were encamped asked for his rent. The French officers paid no attention to this “absurd claim.” Seeing this, the republican clodhopper cut short any further discussion and went off to fetch the Sheriff, asking him to arrest the trespasser. Your excellency should imagine the arrival of these two poor countrymen—the plaintiff and the Sheriff unarmed but strong in support of the Law, and resolved to arrest the French General, M. de Rochambeau, in front of all his troops. The General was duly summoned by the Sheriff and required to pay all of his due . . . . How, in such a country, could desert land fail to bloom; how could the shiest and most timorous of men fail to turn honest, just, hard working, educated, and courageous?

—Francisco de Miranda (1750-1816)

  • Dr. James L. Payne is a research fellow at the Independent Institute and author. He earned his PhD in political science from the University of California at Berkeley, and he has taught political science at a number of universities including Yale University.