Democracy and Guaranteed Jobs

Dr. Russell is Director of the School of Polit­ical Economy of The Foundation for Economic Education.

A favorite cliché of those who have faith in the welfare state is this: In a democracy, we can have both guaranteed jobs and freedom of choice.

Those people are aware that in a dictatorship it doesn’t work out that way. But millions of sincere Americans honestly believe that it can be different in a democracy. Well, it can’t—as was illustrated beyond any shadow of a doubt in Great Britain when the leaders of the labor unions were running the government there from 1945 to 1950.

In peacetime, in the oldest democracy in the world, once-free men were driven underground to mine coal when they did not wish to do so. They were fined and impris­oned by their own democratically elected leaders because they imagined their government could guarantee them jobs without compel­ling them to work at specific jobs. Here is a factual report of a small segment of that sorry experiment under a democratic government:

In February 1946, Sir Stafford Cripps [Chancellor of the Ex­chequer in Britain's government] said: "No country in the world, as far as I know, has yet succeeded in carrying through a planned econ­omy without the direction of la­bor. Our objective is to carry through a planned economy with­out the direction of labor…."

On the 10th of March 1949 the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Labor announced that between October 1947 and Decem­ber 1948 "374 directions were is­sued to men who were in the min­ing industry compelling them to remain in that industry, and 132 directions were issued to men in agriculture keeping them in agri­culture…." In fairness to the government it should be said that no member of it is in favor of the direction of labor. Despite their good intentions they have failed, not because they will tyranny, far from it, but because, ignoring the experience of every other country, they are wedded to the theory of the Planned State….

Today Sir Stafford can repeat his first speech: "No country in the world, as far as I know, has yet succeeded in carrying through a planned economy without the di­rection of labor."¹

Fortunately, the British people were able to turn back the clock toward freedom before total dis­aster engulfed them. But the union leaders and the other welfare staters never give up. They will return with their planned economy when those of a new generation again accept the belief that their government is obligated to pro­vide a job for every man who is unemployed through no specific fault of his own.

Footnotes

1 R. Hopkin Morris, Member of Parlia­ment, from his booklet Dare or Despair, published by International Liberal Ex­change, London, 1949.

 

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Ideas on Liberty

The Market Method

When any commodity is carried to market, it is not the necessity of the vendor, but the necessity of the purchaser that determines the price.

EDMUND BURKE, Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, 1795

Further Reading

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