Eight words by which to govern

Eight words by which to govern

A few years back, as one year turned to the next, we commended for the attention of our “leaders,” those elected and those appointed, some wise governing precepts.

It is more than apropos to repeat them at this time. Not only have the summer months arrived and, in general, public policymaking has slowed a bit, the economy remains on a southbound train in too many troubling metrics.

Thus, we commend for their attention anew a variety of timeless public policy pronouncements to which they would be wise to regularly refer. That is, before promulgating “new and improved” versions of the same old tried-and-failed policies that no amount of hubris (or ignorance, or idiocy) can make a “success.”

From the late, legendary Wall Street Journal economics writer Henry Hazlitt:

“(G)overnment policy should be directed not to imposing more burdensome requirements on employers but to following policies that encourage profits, that encourage employers to expand, to invest in newer and better machines to increase the productivity of workers – in brief, to encourage capital accumulation, instead of discouraging it – and to increase both employment and wage rates.”

It’s an evergreen tutorial against disincentivizing economic growth through strangling regulations and government-mandated wage floors, not to mention paying people to not work.

It was none other than Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, in 1937, wrote of the dangers of public-sector unions:

“The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress.

“Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures or rules in personnel matters.”

FDR also stressed that, as one commentator reminded, “binding the people to a collective bargaining agreement takes authority away from the people.”

And, as Roosevelt considered public employee strikes:

“(A) strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied.

“Such action, looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.”

Yet public employees seldom hesitate to do the “unthinkable and tolerable” today. Only now, they are enabled by government.

The public should think of this as the Port Authority of Allegheny County begins new contract negotiations with its labor unions – negotiations that are certain to be rancorous in light of the firings of scores of operators for refusing Covid vaccinations and whose operating costs, for buses and light-rail trains, have been unacceptably higher than peer transit authorities for years.

Surely, government policy makers will continue to argue that the government – that is, taxpayers – must “invest” in this or that project because, first, it is in “the best public interest” and, second, the “investment” will pay far greater returns.

Back to Henry Hazlitt for a succinct debunking of this thread-bare defense:

“The proposal is frequently made that the government ought to assume the risks that are ‘too great for private industry.’ This means that bureaucrats should be permitted to take risks with the taxpayers’ money that no one is willing to take with his own. …

“What justification could there possibly be, in fact, for asking taxpayers to take the risks while permitting private capitalists to keep the profits?”

There is none. There never has been. There never will be. Yet the delusional sophists (better known as “bureaucrats”) continue to insist there is and continue, for the most part, to escape unscathed.

“When the government makes loans or subsidies to business, what it does is to tax successful private business in order to support unsuccessful private business,” Hazlitt concluded.

And how reprehensible that in Pittsburgh, taxpayers even have been forced to subsidize everything from the playgrounds for the barons of sport, to very large and very profitable banking giants – think PNC, think FNB – to help them build new skyscrapers and even grocery stores.

All this brings us ‘round to the simplest expression of the principle of limited government:

“The best government is that which governs least.”

The quote, often mistakenly ascribed to others, is taken from a commentary in United States Magazine and Democratic Review in the first half of the 19th century.

Eight words.

Eight simple, powerful words.

Words by which to govern.

Words that our “leaders” cannot afford to forget.

Yet, sad to say – tragic, really — many in government “service” believe these words do not apply to them; they “know better,” they insist.

They do not, taxpayers must forcefully insist, with their voices and their votes.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).