All Commentary
Monday, October 1, 1962

Lets Wreck the Gray Train

Dr. Coleson is Professor of Economics at Spring Arbor College in Michigan. This is a slight condensation from an article which ap­peared in the August 1962 issue of The Flying A magazine of the Aeroquip Corporation.

A Proposal to Stop Piling Burdens on an Already Overloaded Conveyance.

Let’s wreck the “gravy train” be­fore it ruins our country. Inde­pendent, self-reliant men and women, who were willing to stand on their own feet, do a day’s work, and look after themselves, made America the great nation it is, has been, and can remain. But a multitude of Americans will have to rise with “firmness in the right” if this nation is going to survive.

The facts are almost overwhelm­ing. Starting from depression days the list of federal dependents has been growing continually. Five years ago Senator Byrd said that 37 million people were then receiving federal payments. To these would have to be added an unknown number of relatives plus a good many others who were benefiting indirectly from gov­ernment handouts. The Senator warned us “… the spread of gov­ernment paternalism is frighten­ing.”

Clamoring to Get on Board

But Americans are a compla­cent people and don’t frighten easily—certainly not as long as the stream of checks from Washing­ton continues. Indeed, many more have boarded the “gravy train” in the last five years and there is an ever-increasing queue of would-be passengers jostling one another for the best position in the wait­ing line. Apparently almost the entire population is clamoring to get on board.

The resulting situation is ridic­ulous and would be funny if the future of our country were not at stake. Seemingly no one is im­mune. The educators of the nation who ought to know better are pleading for their share of the federal bounty as a right and a good many others can think of equally convincing reasons why they should be included. Certainly the rest of us could just as logic­ally demand “reservations” as those already “on board,” but the practical fact is that the convey­ance is already seriously over­loaded.

The resulting spectacle reminds the writer of a little narrow gauge train he once boarded out in the bush in Africa. The coaches were crammed with natives, bundles, chickens, and pigs in the wildest disarray until no one else could even hang on. The only trouble was that when the train reached a hill, it couldn’t make the grade and the passengers had to pile out and push. But our fellow Ameri­cans don’t want to be inconven­ienced: they expect a streamlined, air-conditioned ride all the way through—no pushing for them ex­cept crowding to get more bene­fits. And in this space age they see no reason why it shouldn’t be possible.

Nonproductive Government

The simple truth is that gov­ernment is not productive : we, the people, must support ourselves plus Uncle Sam and all his poor relatives. But, as many of us have noticed, often Uncle’s hangers-on seem more prosperous than the rest of us, and parasitism no longer carries even a stigma : it has become a way of life. The net result is that the decreasing number of producers find it harder and harder to maintain themselves and all the free loaders, until they too are tempted to give up the struggle and run to Washington with a tin cup like everyone else. Increasingly peo­ple are saying that we must have federal help; we simply can’t make it on our own slender resources. But as more people are subsi­dized the burden becomes even more impossible for the few in­dependent Americans who are still trying to go it alone. Nor does government assistance offer more than the illusion of relief : we pay it all plus the cost of bureaucratic inefficiency. Thomas Jefferson de­scribed our present-day situation with prophetic eloquence:

If we run into such debts, as that we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our necessaries and our comforts, in our labors and our amuse­ments… as the people of Eng­land are, our people, like them, must come to labor sixteen hours in the twenty-four, give the earnings of fifteen of these to the government for their debts and daily expenses; and the sixteenth being insufficient to afford us bread, we must… be glad to obtain subsistenceby hiring ourselves (to the gov­ernment) to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow-suf­ferers.

A large fraction of every budget simply goes to placate the pressure groups—buy our votes with our own money.

Most of our fellow countrymen know this and have known it all along. Their justification usually is that we might as well get our share while it’s going around. In­deed, in the tomorrows when the historian takes pen in hand to describe the Decline and Fall of the United States, (should present trends continue) he will have to record the fact that the fault lay mainly with good, well-meaning people. The demagogues could never have gotten their way had not a multitude of respectable people gone along because it was easy, profitable, and the thing being done—”fellow travelers” on the road to ruin. Let’s each start a one-man campaign to close out the federal give-away program by pledging ourselves to stand on our own feet and encouraging our friends to do the same.