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.
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!