Sydney M. Williams
30 Bokum Road – Apartment 314
Essex, CT 06426
Thought of the Day
“A Lesson in Government and Government Compassion”
August 7, 2017
“Practically all government attempts to redistribute wealth and income
tend to smother production incentives and lead toward general impoverishment.”
Henry Hazlitt (1894-1993)
American journalist of economics and business
This is a primer, written as a reminder to myself as much as for readers. With our government grown large and complex, with demands placed on it that were never envisioned by the Founders, with its purpose enshrouded in a miasma of social demands and political correctness, and with its being used by those who enrich themselves at the expense of the needy, it seemed appropriate to recall its original intent, and to acknowledge that, from a perspective of government largesse, wealth must precede compassion.
Without government, anarchy would reign, chaos would ensue and the strongest would rule. So, government is necessary for man to survive, at least civilly. The question has always been – what form of government best serves man? Winston Churchill, a sometime satirical critic of democracy (“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”), nevertheless admitted it was the best form of government yet devised. Most would agree. Additionally (and concomitantly), we should remind ourselves that private economic growth is a necessary prelude to public compassion.
Most people are, and have been, ruled by authoritarians: royalty, military or civilian dictatorships, religious leaders, a cabal of strong men, or an oligarchy of the wealthy. Examples today would include North Korea, Syria, Iran, Uganda and Venezuela. China and Russia restrict the rights of their citizens. (Incidentally, the leaders of three of those countries – Russia, North Korea and Syria – show up on a list of the world’s richest political leaders.) The origins of these governments lie in the military like Uganda, religion like Iran, or socialism like Venezuela. China and Russia came to be despotic regimes by way of revolution against imperial powers. But, unlike ours, their revolutions devolved into even harsher regimes. The consequence for their peoples: the murder of millions of their citizens, deprivation of human rights, unequal opportunities, sustained poverty, and no desire to provide adequately for their people. While both have emerged from the worst of their self-inflicted atrocities, both have recently reverted to authoritarian ways.
In democracies, where the fortunate among us live, the essential purpose of government is twofold: To keep its citizens safe against threats from home and abroad, and to assure that its citizens’ civil rights are not abrogated. Compassion in government, a common expectancy today, can only be achieved with sustained economic growth. President George W. Bush once said, “The major role of government is to create an environment where people take risks to expand the job rate in the United States.” A belief in, and encouragement of, free market capitalism is necessary to attain the things we today want government to do: to care for the indigent, the aged, the infirm, to provide healthcare for all, to educate our youth and to protect the environment. A nation may be rich in resources, as is ours, but without the rule of law and without a legal framework that allows people to own private property those resources may sit idle. One has only to look at nations like Venezuela, Argentina, Nigeria and Rwanda – poor countries with abundant resources. A successful nation needs a freely elected government, along with men and women who are entrepreneurial, aspirant, creative and willing to take risk, those who see opportunity and exploit it. Government should act as referee: assure fairness, protect the innocent, see that laws are upheld, and prevent the willful destruction of resources for short term gain. It should not be the arbiter of who becomes successful.
To accomplish this, a successful nation must make available a basic education, and it must strive to provide equal opportunities for all. As a country becomes powerful and wealthy, demands on its resources intensify. That is unsurprising. A free and independent nation, grown rich because of adherence to the principles of free-market capitalism, can afford to be compassionate. But it must be careful lest it slay the goose that lays the golden eggs. Without wealth created through private enterprise, compassion becomes empty promises – wind puddings with air sauce, as my mother-in-law used to say.
To achieve the goal of a representative republic and to avoid the tendency of man to accrue power, the Founders established a government in which leverage was diffused – a separation of control – a legislative branch to create laws, an executive branch to implement them, and a judicial branch to adjudicate them.
As we recall that history, we should not forget what the Founders did not promise: equality of outcomes, the promotion of gender studies, health care, the protection of our rivers and forests, etc. They had little idea of the of how big, rich and complex the United States would become. They had no inkling of labor-saving devices that would be forthcoming, from cars to washing machines to telephones. They realized that people are not all the same. They knew they were not creating Nirvana, but I like to think they would approve of the charity and humanity that are central to today’s citizens and government. However, I also like to think that they believed we should live within our means, and that we should not derail the engine of economic growth, which has brought so much good to so many.
There is a reason that immigrants seek our shores – we are a land of opportunity. We are a place where hard work and ability provide awards, where gains made legally cannot be confiscated, where the right to speak out, to protest, to practice one’s religion are not inhibited, where, if accused of a crime, a jury of one’s peers determine one’s guilt or innocence, where discrimination is not absent, but not so prevalent as in those countries where it is exercised by government. The people must ensure those principles are never reneged.
As well, as charitable people we should strive to do what we can to help those in need, regardless of what government does; though our government does and should play a role. But the promise of equal outcomes is nothing more than an empty campaign pledge – a promise that what is Sally’s will be given to Harry. Such policies do not recognize inherent differences in people: Some are stronger; others are smarter. Some have high aspirations; others are content to be followers. Some work hard; others prefer personal pursuits. Some shun the material world for that of art, music or dance. Some of the most talented are willing to forego high incomes, so that they may teach others, attend their medical needs, or do research. We are a nation of doctors, plumbers, lawyers, electricians, artists, stockbrokers, storekeepers, actors and accountants. A marvel of our communities is that society’s needs get filled without government edict.
What should government do? Simplify the tax code, eliminate prohibitive regulation, reduce dependency, encourage personal responsibility, celebrate the dignity of work and motivate entrepreneurs. Let economic growth reach its potential. Let the next generations enjoy the fruits of democracy and free-market capitalism, as have we. Keep in mind, civil rights and economic freedom are inextricably entwined.
Here endeth the lesson.