All Commentary
Thursday, April 1, 1971

The Worrycrats

Even when government is limited to codifying the taboos, invoking a common justice, and keeping the peace, there is and has to be an operating staff: a bureaucracy, as we call it. Routine procedures of a bureaucracy offer a legal way to administer a police department, as distinguished from arbitrary rule.1

Worrycrats, as I call them, are a special breed of totalitarian bu­reaucrats who spawn rapidly as society is socialized. These people concern themselves with our health, education, welfare, auto safety, drug intake, diet, and what have you. Worrycrats today out­number any other professionals in history, so rapidly have they pro­liferated.

We might say that theirs is in­deed big business, except that the activities of these worrycrats in no way resemble a free market op­eration. Freedom in transactions has no part in this political pro­cedure. Citizens are coerced to pay these professional worriers wheth­er they want their services or not. A nongovernmental operation of similar nature would be called a racket.

While the worrycrat has never ranked higher in my esteem than any other practitioner of chicanery, it took two successive observa­tions to “turn me on.” Driving north on the Merritt Parkway, I observed a brilliantly painted road­way sign: ARE YOU DYING FOR A SMOKE? While designed to discourage smoking at the wheel, it brought to mind the recurrent messages beamed to us by worry­crats.

Perhaps I would have dismissed the thought had I not read in the next morning’s paper about the World Health Organization, op­erating out of Geneva, announcing its plans “to step up its campaign against cigarettes by reducing the world’s production of tobacco.” How? By getting farmers, the world over, to switch to other crops!2

Mine is not an argument in fa­vor of smoking or against anyone quitting; whether you smoke or not is none of my business. Rather, I question the propriety of our be­ing coerced to pay worrycrats to worry about us. We worry enough on our own without paying to have our worries multiplied. George Robert Sims wrote a truism:

For one that big misfortunes slay, Ten die of little worries.

An experience comes to mind. In 1947 I visited Houston for the first time. There were fifty VIP’s at the dinner. Seated next to me was an elderly gentleman. The next noon, he remarked, “Leonard, you were nervous before you spoke and you drank far too much coffee. That’s not good for you.”

Admitting to both the nervous­ness and excessive coffee, I sug­gested—perhaps incorrectly—that, short of accidents, we are born, more or less, with our time tags; that my excesses might make a year or two of difference, but why fret about that!

“I never thought of it that way before,” said he, “but now that you mention it, here’s a piece of evi­dence in your support. Fifty-some years ago sixteen couples, all in our early twenties, arrived in Houston. We became close friends, and I confess we smoked, drank a lot of coffee, and even some alco­hol. We worked hard but we had fun. Then, when we reached forty or thereabouts, all, except myself and one other, began worrying about when they were going to die. Having a fretful eye on reaching a ripe old age, they quit these things, watched their diet, and otherwise prepared for longevity. You know, all except that other fellow and me have gone to their reward!”

The Competence of Worriers

Observe the massive outpour­ings of the worrycrats—over TV, radio, and in the press—about lung cancer, heart failure, mer­cury, cranberries, cyclomates, seat belts, groceries, and so on. Unless one sees through all of these un­solicited oral and verbal counsels, he is going to be unnecessarily concerned. It is my contention that tens of millions have had their or­dinary fears and worries substan­tially multiplied by reason of these professional do-gooders. Millions of people who never gave longevity more than a second thought are now worrying about it. Fear and worry are far deadlier menaces than all the things the worrycrats pretend to protect us from. But before trying to substantiate this point, let us raise a few pertinent questions.

Are these political saviors really concerned about your welfare and mine? Actually, they do not know that you or I exist. Nor will they know when we cease to exist. What, then, is their motivation? The truth is that I know as little about their motivations as they know about what is good or bad for me.

But let us suppose that they are worried about you and me. Who are they and what is their compe­tence? Certainly, lovely ladies serve a purpose, but they are not experts when it comes to your wel­fare or mine. Nor are publicists, propagandists, the folks of Madi­son Avenue—all of these people who prepare the worry words we hear and read.

Or, let us further suppose that these worrycrats are the world’s most advanced physicians and sci­entists. Would they know enough of what is injurious or helpful to you or me to justify forcing this information upon us or frighten­ing us about it? You and I are in no way alike; each individual is unique, extraordinary, different. Were this not the case, my doctor could examine me and apply the same findings to you and all others. Examination of one would suffice for everyone.

No Two the Same

As a matter of fact, individuals vary widely. For instance, an asso­ciate of mine must strenuously ex­ercise to live. The same exertion by most people would do them in. A late friend of mine passed on at 95. He had observed a rule all his life: never move except when nec­essary. Similar inactivity for most of us would bring about an early demise. There are drugs which can save your life but would kill me. This is why pharmaceutical houses publish long lists of contraindica­tions for each drug they manu­facture.

Dr. Roger Williams, a noted bio­chemist at the University of Tex­as, blamed a physician for the death of a patient because he treated her as an average person—when there is no average person! This led Dr. Williams into the study of human variation and re­sulted in three remarkable books: Free and Unequal (1953), The Bio­chemical Basis of Individuality (1956), and You Are Extraordi­nary (1967).3 For a striking example among his findings: some persons can imbibe twenty times as much alcohol as can certain others, and be no more inebriated! A later study of his revealed that even “identical twins” are far from identical.

I care not who sits behind the worrycratic desk, whether a dull­ard or an Aristotle. When anyone thus tries to fathom our ills, de­ficiencies, excesses, he is staring into absolute darkness. Prescrib­ing for and presiding over 200 mil­lion distinctive, unique individuals is no more within man’s compe­tence than sitting atop the Cosmos and directing the Universe. Con­trary to socialist doctrine, we are discrete beings—not a mass, a col­lective, a lump of dough to be kneaded, baked, and consumed!

Death Hastened by Fears of Psychosomatic Origin

Now, what about fears, anxie­ties, worries? Are they killers? One scarcely needs modern science to find support for the idea that most ills are psychosomatic in ori­gin. Go back well over two millen­nia and there it is: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” 4

Here is modern support:

For instance, a patient whose par­ents have both died of heart disease will be anxious about his own heart.

When then a normal diencephalic re­sponse to an emotion causes the heart to beat faster or when gastric disten­sion pushes his heart out of its usual position, he will be inclined to inter­pret what he feels as the beginning of the disease which killed his parents, thinking that he has inherited a weak heart. At once all his fears cluster like a swarm of angry bees on his heart, a vicious cycle is established and thus anxious cortical supervision may eventually lead to organic le­sions. He and his family will then be convinced that he did indeed inherit a weak heart, yet this is not at all true.

The above is taken from Man’s Presumptuous Brain by A. T. W. Simeons, M.D.5 This is but one of many illustrations of how death is hastened through fears, anxieties, rage, worries, a physiologic and pathologic process set in motion by a psychosomatic origin. In brief, unless one would speed the process, let him not fear death.

I repeat, the outpourings of the worrycrats tend to multiply our stresses, anxieties, worries; in­stead of rescuing us from our way­wardness, they are literally scar­ing us to death.

Ideally, there is a role for government with respect to health, education, welfare. That role is to inhibit misrepresentation, fraud, violence, predation, whether by doctors, educators, restaurateurs, pharmaceutical manufacturers, la­bor unions, or others. No false la­bels; no coercive impositions on anyone! This is to say that all of us should be prohibited from injur­ing others. Actions that harm others—not what one does to self define the limits of the social problem and of governmental scope.

You know yourself better than anyone else does. Better that you turn yourself toward what you think is your advantage than be turned by a worrycrat toward what he thinks is your advantage. You at least know something, whereas he knows nothing of you as an in­dividual.



The Reform Process

Men live their lives within a framework of customary relations and patterns for achieving their ends and solving their problems. In the absence of positive force, they have worked out and ac­cepted these patterns voluntarily, or they submit to them will­ingly. Any alteration of these by government involves the use or threat of force, for that is how governments operate. The old order must be replaced by a new order for the reform to be achieved. The result of the forceful effort to do this is disorder….

Men may adjust to the new disorder, resume the course of their lives as best they can, and submit more or less to conditions. In time, they may even forget that the system is maintained by force, or that things could be otherwise. After all, most peoples at most times have lived under varying degrees of oppression. Nonethe­less, ameliorative reform introduces violence into life. The force charged with keeping the peace becomes the disturber of the peace. Traditional relationships are disrupted. Liberty is re­stricted and reduced.


1See Bureaucracy by Ludwig von Mises (New Rochelle, N. Y.: Arlington House, 1969).

2See New York Times, January 31, 1971, First Section, p. 12.

3Free and Unequal, Austin: Univer­sity of Texas Press. The Biochemical Basis of Individuality, Austin: University of Texas Press. You Are Extraordinary, New York: Random House.

4Proverbs 23:7.

5First published in 1961 by E. P. Dut­ton & Co., New York.

See also:

The Stress of Life by Hans Seyle, M.D. (New York: McGraw-Hill Co., 1956).

The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas S. Szasz, M.D. (London: Martin Seeker & Warburg, Ltd., 1962).

  • Leonard E. Read (1898-1983) was the founder of FEE, and the author of 29 works, including the classic parable “I, Pencil.”