All Commentary
Monday, March 1, 1965

Nor Oysters from The Desert Sands

Mr. Sparks is a business executive of Canton, Ohio.

Community leaders, striving “to get their share” of Federal funds for local projects to alleviate slum conditions and improve the city, are doomed to disappointment. For it is a law of nature that evil be­gets evil, regardless of good in­tentions, and no matter how often the mistake is repeated.

Recent comprehensive studies of the results of government urban renewal programs reveal that slum dwellers displaced from their homes are likely to find even worse housing accommodations elsewhere, and frequently at higher cost than they paid before.¹

From Barron’s of July 27, 1964, comes this editorial summation: “In short, the most striking achievement of urban renewal, whether in Stamford or San Fran­cisco, Kansas City or Brooklyn, has been the wholesale bulldozing of human and property rights…. Under urban renewal more specu­lative profits than slums have been cleared…. Far from reducing the number of slum dwellers, it has swelled their number.”

Not only are residents of low-income homes being pushed around without regard to their rights, but also the small businessmen who adequately serve these and other similar neighborhoods have found it impossible to continue in busi­ness under urban renewal. Peter H. Prugh reports in The Wall Street Journal of November 18, 1964 “…. the difficulties of the Hyde Park – Kenwood urban re­newal neighborhood are typical. It is almost axiomatic that, when rubble makes its inevitable ap­pearance in urban renewal proj­ects, small businessmen as inevit­ably begin to disappear.”

One could go on and on with examples of the urban renewal in­justice forced upon those persons already in the lower economic strata of society. There is no doubt that urban renewal, as a means to improve housing conditions for these people, has been a dismal disappointment—though it is to be expected whenever ownership rights are violated, whenever self-reliance and self-responsibility are discouraged, whenever the volun­tary choices of free people in a free market are frustrated.

The Chaotic Consequences

The chaotic result is that peo­ple are displaced from the best homes they could or would afford. The dispersal of old neighborhoods means broken friendships, removal of familiar faces and places, and the expiration of local church and social centers. Small neighborhood businesses simply disappear. How such chaos affects the lives of these persons, aside from the eco­nomic losses involved, is next to impossible to measure.

Leonard Read put it this way: “Damage cannot be done to the free market without an equal dam­age to man’s nature. When men are compelled to look to a one-source decision instead of to the individual decisions of men, man is robbed of his wholeness. Self-responsibility…. the wellspring of man’s growth, gives way to cheap politics, mass plunder…. and members of that society will tend more to rot than to hatch.”²

During a recent seminar dis­cussion on urban renewal, a ques­tion was asked typifying both the sincerity and the gullibility of the proponent who allows glitter­ing goals to blind him to the wrong methods proposed.

Although the questioner had heard telling arguments and un­impeachable testimony of the fail­ure of the government renewal program to bring better living conditions, he could not bring him­self to face the truth of the situ­ation. Surely, the cause of failure in communities everywhere over the nation must be due to inept leadership or lack of administra­tive ability, he rationalized. Con­fident of these reasons for the failures, and equally confident that neither of these faults would be repeated in his city, he was sure of the program’s success, if only his city would participate—eco­nomic and moral facts of life be hanged! His anxiety to help his fellow man toward better living conditions clouded his reason.

As an analogy, let us suppose that numerous municipalities all over the country had recently de­cided to run their police cars on water rather than gasoline. Due to the national publicity and claims of success by municipal officials, the local city council considers switching its patrol cars from gasoline to water also. In reply to protests, the advocates suggest that the automotive maintenance engineers in the other communi­ties, where failures have been ru­mored, surely must have been in­competent and unfit; but the mem­bers of the local city council, being men of wisdom, will find a quali­fied automotive engineer who, with their help, will make no mis­takes. Will the switch succeed? No answer is required. The out­come of the scheme is clearly foreseen and one could not but wonder at the foolishness of its supporters.

Yet, is not an artificial, unnat­ural substitution of government urban renewal for the operation of free enterprise in a free market just as clearly unworkable?

A Rational Universe and Our Lives Depend on It

Man exists in a rational uni­verse, and doubtless would perish if it were not rational. Apple trees grow apples and can be counted on to produce apples, rather than grapes or blackberries, next har­vest season. Oysters come from waters of the sea, not from the sands of the desert. The seasons of the year occur in never-ending rotation; never yet has winter followed spring. There is a steady certainty about mathematics. Even romantic musical tones are of certain quality and can be defined by the number of vibrations per second.

Over the centuries we have come to know that not all kinds of ac­tion will bring desired results in a rational universe. Only those causative actions consistent with the final results will succeed in producing them. Thus, the proper design of an airship will enable it to fly in the manner conceived by its creators. However, if a de­signer were inept, and an attempt were made to fly his creation, one could reasonably expect a fright­ening crash at the end of the runway. No matter that the de­signer was enthusiastic and ar­dently wished his airships to fly. No matter that this intent was good. Desire alone will not over­come the inconsistency of his design with the natural laws of the universe—nor will the sin­cerity of his intent prevent the shattering devastation of airplane metal and human bodies.

Historian Clarence B. Carson, noting that industry, thrift, and frugality lead to independence, re­wards, increased possessions, and savings, explains that “these ac­tions are not good because they have good consequences; they have good consequences because they are good—i.e., that they are in keeping with the moral order. Self-respect begets respect for others; honor begets honesty; fidelity be­gets faithfulness.” And the con­verse holds equally true: sincere, well-intended ignorance in the selection of a fallacious means begets nothing but despair and disappointment—evil begets evil!

Expropriation of private prop­erty, without the owner’s consent, falls squarely within the definition of stealing—certainly an immoral action. Yet, that is the standard procedure in Federal urban re­newal programs, and the results are consistent with the immoral nature of the action, notwith­standing the good intentions of civic leaders seeking to provide better living conditions for resi­dents of slum housing via govern­ment aid. An improper means, consequently and logically, must yield unhappy results.

One cannot run a gasoline en­gine on water. One cannot put an airship in flight with malformed wings. Elberta peaches will not grow from a clump of thistles, nor oysters from the desert sands. Nor can well-functioning communities be expected to sprout from the government-planned frustration of the lives of individuals.

State Medication

THE WORST THING that can happen to a working man is to work for a company that isn’t making money. Such a company, not growing, can never provide individuals with the security and opportunities they would like to have. The liberal who cries out for broad welfare measures and state control lacks inherent faith in people and in our free society. He treats them as though they were some type of chronic disease. As a result his approach has been one of continuous medication by the state.

L. C. Michelon, Republic Steel, to NAM Institute on Industrial Relations, 1964

Foot Notes

1 “The federal urban renewal program has made it more difficult for low and middle-income groups to obtain housing because of the amount of low-rent hous­ing destroyed. Many of the families that are required to move go into housing as bad as or worse than their original homes

in neighborhoods that are as bad or worse than their original neighborhoods. And they often pay higher rents at the new location.” The Federal Bulldozer by Mar­tin Anderson (The M.I.T. Press, Massa­chusetts Institute of Technology, Cam­bridge, Mass., 1964), p. 220.

2 “On Freedom and Order,” Freeman, January, 1965.

3The American Tradition. (Irvington­on-Hudson, New York: The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., 1964), p. 238.

  • John C. Sparks, who died on March 27, 2005, served on the board of trustees of the Foundation for Economic Education for many years. In the mid-1980s, following his retirement from business, Mr. Sparks served a term as FEE’s president.