This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
(c) But these occasions for government to enter the field of industry are few and definite. They cannot be exceeded without loss of wealth and demoralization of labor. Government should not only refrain from undertaking any work not necessary in its own interest, but should, as far as possible, let out what is necessary to competition and individual enterprise. Wherever the character of the operation is not such that its reliability concerns immediately the existence of the nation or the lives of citizens, it should be left to the general industry.
We have, thus far, discussed the employment of laborers by government, on the strict supposition of a necessity existing at the time. We have seen that such a necessity might overrule economic laws, and justify governments in such a course; but we have also seen those evils, even in this case, which will save us any very extended consideration of the question, whether governments should, without reference to an immediate distress among its people, enter the market of labor; and, in the consumption of wealth, become a competitor with individual industry, even when the objects selected are wholesome and natural.
(a) In a free people, and with fair laws of distribution, there will seldom be occasion for such employment by governments, except in its own interest. No able-bodied laborer can render to an official as much service as to an individual employer; the reason being, that the former is not capable of receiving the service so perfectly. And it ought never to be true, that an able-bodied laborer is compelled to seek work at the hands of government. It will not happen, until wicked laws have deprived him of that employment, which, in a natural order of things, he obtains simply in virtue of his ability to achieve the satisfaction of human wants.
(6) Such employment by government perpetuates dependence. It has been found strikingly true in the history of great experiments after this fashion. Men once accustomed to feed at the public board, whether as princes or day-laborers, are very loath to return to the primitive fare of private life. Relief from the stringent but necessary laws of competition becomes almost a second nature; and few are found willing to break off from this reliance on government support.
(c) Such employment by government demoralizes the general industry of the country. A false scale of prices is established, since government does not buy or sell under exactly the same motives as individuals. An unnatural competition is introduced into labor. The market is improperly controlled by the immense resources of the administration: in consequence, all other branches of production are, to a greater or less extent, disturbed and kept restless.
(d) Such employment by government induces political corruption. It is not consistent with our purpose to enlarge upon this subject, but only to show its place. The fact is undeniable; and while government must accept, as a necessity, a certain amount of improper influences attending its operations, this should be a potent argument against any assumption, on its part, of unnecessary work.
A great part of the discussion of this'' question would more aptly come into the department of "Production; " but it is so bound up with popular theories of government expenditures, as encouraging industry, that it is fairly brought within the present field of inquiry: and it is from the point now reached that we get the best view of that absurd doctrine which proclaims that national extravagance stimulates trade, and promotes the general welfare.
We have seen, that any expenditure by government, even for necessary purposes, is made at a disadvantage to itself, and is attended by many marked inconveniences and mischiefs to society; and that, so far as consistent, individual enterprise should be substituted. In how strong a light, then, do we see the folly of that scheme of national prosperity which looks to lavish outlay by government for any purpose, whether productive or destructive, of luxury or war! The share of some interested portion of the community may be larger, or come more easily; but the sum of wealth is diminished, and the healthful laws of distribution are disturbed.
Yet, in the recent gigantic warlike operations of the United States, it was a daily experience to hear the accepted teachers of political philosophy gravely pronounce the condition of the country to be most gratifying, loudly congratulating the public on the stimulus given to industry by the outlay of government. Trade was brisk, because the nation was running three thousand millions in debt, to be just so much poorer for centuries. We do not question that the occasion justified the expense; but this was none the less an unfortunate necessity, and the liveliness of business was the most melancholy feature of the national condition.