All Commentary
Sunday, August 1, 1971

Early Warning

Observations concerning the failure of the “welfare State” by Nassau Senior, English economist (1790-1864), based on a visit in France about 1850.

Men, whose reasoning faculties are either uncultivated, or per­verted by their feelings or their imaginations, see the great power of the State, and do not perceive its limits. They see it disposes of great resources, and do not per­ceive how easily these resources may be not only exhausted but dried up. They are struck by the contrast between great superfluity and great indigence, between lives shortened by indolence and lives shortened by toil, by wealth squandered unproductively while cultivable lands lie waste and la­bourers ask in vain for employ­ment. When excited by such a spectacle, what is more natural than to propose laws, by which the toil which appears to them exces­sive shall be forbidden, by which the government shall provide the strong with employment and the weak with relief; and obtain the necessary funds, partly from the superfluity of the rich, and partly by taking possession of the pro­ductive instruments which their present owners are too idle or too timid to turn to the best advan­tage? It requires a long train of reasoning to show that the capital on which the miracles of civiliza­tion depend is the slow and pain­ful creation of the economy and enterprise of the few, and of the industry of the many, and is de­stroyed, or driven away, or pre­vented from arising, by any causes which diminish or render insecure the profits of the capitalist, or deaden the activity of the labour­er; and that the State, by reliev­ing idleness, improvidence, or mis­conduct from the punishment, and depriving abstinence and foresight of the reward, which have been provided for them by nature, may indeed destroy wealth, but most certainly will aggravate poverty.

Journals Kempt in France and Italy from 1848 #52.