Is It Practical

Mr. Sparks is an executive of an Ohio manu­facturing company and a frequent contributor to THE FREEMAN.

Many a logical and practical man seems to go haywire in his expec­tations of government. He will sail right over the philosophy that would limit government to the pro­tection of life, liberty, and prop­erty. When he sees human needs, he deems it practical to call for government action to relieve pov­erty and provide social security, medicare, school lunches, educa­tion, foreign aid, and other "chari­ties."

He finds it inconceivable that business could function without such government services as the post office, highways, monetary controls, weather reports — and subsidized electric power, if he comes from the region of the Ten­nessee Valley Authority. He also expects "police protection" against economic adversity, unemployment, price changes, and other aspects of competition.

Such great faith in government’s ability to administer charities, services, and controls would sug­gest a long string of successes. At least, that’s how most businesses gain a clientele. One satisfied cus­tomer is the advertisement to the next. When a businessman wants a new office building, he seeks an architect of demonstrated skill in the design of similar structures. Professional football managers try to fill their rosters with experi­enced players who show promise of greater success. An entertainer discovers that each round of ap­plause is the steppingstone toward more popularity and demand. The successful consulting firm grows on its record for solving perplex­ing problems.

There is no finer recommenda­tion than prior success — except where government is concerned.

That’s a different story, as the record clearly reveals.

Compounding the Problem

In the area of "charity," it has compiled a miserable showing of waste and graft. Recipients, who need above all else to regain self-responsibility and self-reliance, are rewarded and encouraged instead to remain dependent. Unwedded motherhood becomes a livelihood. Unemployed persons choose to re­main jobless because of the com­pensation. Educators and parents relinquish their responsibilities toward their children in exchange for state and Federal aid. The something-for-nothing years of the social security program are over. Henceforth, workers would do far better to buy insurance pri­vately — if they had the choice. From medicare may be expected costly and inadequate service, wrapped in red tape and inacces­sible when needed.

The government’s record for rendering economic service also is deplorable. The monopolized postal service has been unimaginative and inefficient in contrast with other forms of communication. Operating costs rise year after year. Yet, in many respects, the quality of service has declined. Part of the rapid cost increase is paid directly by "captive" custom­ers, the nation’s postal users, through higher postal rates. The remainder is "out of sight" in the government’s accounting records, adding to the taxpayer’s burden.

Another economic service by a combination of municipal, county, state, and Federal governments is the network of highways across the nation. And to come across one of the completed stretches of the new interstate highways is a trav­eler’s delight. Have we an excep­tion here — government successful at something other than policing? Before passing judgment, consider the alarming increase in the high­way death toll. The super high­ways have seen super collisions and super holiday casualty re­cords as well as super traffic jams. The word is out in Los Angeles and other cities: Avoid the free­ways when large numbers of mo­torists are likely to be using them.

The government has made quite a fuss about the safety of private­ly manufactured automobiles. Imagine the furor over traffic con­gestion and highway fatalities if the roads were privately owned and operated! But hardly anyone ever thinks about that possibility. If we did, we might dream of the convenience and safety of a high­way system under competitive pri­vate enterprise rather than a gov­ernmental monopoly.

Government also has monopolized the business of money and credit, with a sorry record of booms and panics and depression—and endless inflation. But where is the "practical" man with an alternative monetary system?

When Government Plays a Handicapper’s Role

Another governmental role ac­cepted in blind faith by the practi­cal man is that of the handicap­per, arbitrarily adjusting the vol­untary agreements that have been reached in the market place. In 1966, Florida orange growers had a bountiful harvest, a surplus situ­ation from which the U. S. De­partment of Agriculture hastened to rescue them. But the price sup­port program, based on use of orange juice in the school lunch program, afforded little help. Fi­nally, the processors wisely cut out of the government program with a sales campaign to sell or­ange juice at lower prices. Early results indicate success; consump­tion is running 20 per cent heavier than in the previous year. Juice processors and consumers, in this instance, have found a way around the government’s good intentions. May it serve as a lesson to all who place their faith in the "practi­cality" of government relief!

This poses a provocative ques­tion. Why is it that when a man of proven ability in private under­takings is ordained with govern­mental power, he so often becomes a hobble to progress? Why the dif­ference between the success he was and the failure he becomes?

There is a difference — of this there can be little doubt — but what is that difference? Call the difference self-reliance. Call it self-responsibility. Call it incentive to achieve a greater reward. Call it a fear of not succeeding. Call it a burning desire to serve customers better than does a competitor. Call it any or all of these. A business­man places his savings and per­sonal effort on the line, betting he will succeed. He must rely upon himself; success or failure is his personal responsibility. If he does not attract enough customers, he will not obtain a satisfactory in­come and may even lose his sav­ings. He risks all this on his ability to serve others and achieve in return the financial and psy­chological rewards of profit and satisfaction. The private owner­ship spur is two-fold and very real — fear of failure, and pleasure of success.

Now, put this successful busi­nessman in government office, and he will have to operate without those incentives. There is no penalty involved for the lack of self-reliance unless gross neglect of duty or misconduct occurs. Government seldom permits the existence of competition. Conse­quently, there is no need to per­form well in order to attract more customers. Nor is there any com­pelling reason to perform effi­ciently. There is no competitive standard with which to compare results. With what private postal system can one compare the gov­ernment’s performance? There is always the taxpayer to cover defi­cits.

The profit incentive makes the difference. In the absence of that incentive, it seems most unlikely that a Henry Ford, Thomas Edi­son, Charles Kettering, or David Sarnoff will ever emerge from the ranks of government employees. It is not a matter of selecting the "right" persons for government jobs. It is a matter of selecting the jobs that government is competent to perform. The organization de­signed to defend people lacks the disciplines and incentives for suc­cessful business operation. So let’s be truly practical. Let the police force attend to its appropriate de­fensive functions. And let economic services be performed in open com­petition by responsible individuals with a proven capacity for such service.

 

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Herbert Spencer

Marvellous are the conclusions men reach once they desert the simple principle that each man should be allowed to pursue the objects of life, restrained only by the limits which the similar pursuits of their objects by other men impose. A generation ago we heard loud assertions of "the right to labor," that is, the right to have labor provided; and there are still not a few who think the community bound to find work for each person. Compare this with the doctrine current in France at the time when the mon­archical power culminated; namely, that "the right of working is a royal right which the prince can sell and the subjects must buy."

This contrast is startling enough; but a contrast still more startling is being provided for us. We now see a resuscitation of the despotic doctrine, differing only by the substitution of trade-unions for kings. For now that trade-unions are becoming univer­sal, and each artisan has to pay prescribed monies to one or another of them, with the alternative of being a non-unionist to whom work is denied by force, it has come to this: that the right to labor is a trade-union right, which the trade-union can sell and the in­dividual worker must buy!