Words by which to govern

Words by which to govern

Government public policy makers will be back on the job in full force in the coming week. Thus, we commend for their attention 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) 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 discourage it – and to increase both employment and wage rates.”

It’s an evergreen tutorial against government-mandated wage floors.

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.

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.

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. Yet, sad to say, many in government “service” believe they do not apply to them.

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