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The Real Public Servants

Public-Service

Private enterprise does more for the national good than it gets credit for

hoover_logo_diJames Huffman  writes:  Alexis de Tocqueville reported that “Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite. . . . Everywhere that, at the head of a new undertaking, you see the government in France and a great lord in England, count on it that you will perceive an association in the United States.”

    [Alexis de Tocqueville‘s Democracy in America is available in paperback from Amazon ]

Tocqueville went on to observe that these civil associations serving every imaginable end were the product of what he called “self-interest well understood.” Tocqueville reflected that “the beauties of virtue were constantly spoken of” in “aristocratic centuries,” but he doubted that men were more virtuous in those times than in others. 

In the United States, he had observed, “it is almost never said that virtue is beautiful.” Rather Americans “maintain that . . . [virtue] is useful and they prove it every day.” This is what Tocqueville meant by “self-interest well understood,” which he illustrated with this quotation from Montaigne: “When I do not follow the right path for the sake of righteousness, I follow it for having found by experience that all things considered, it is commonly the happiest and most useful.”

“self-interest well understood” “forms a multitude of citizens who are regulated, temperate, moderate, farsighted, masters of themselves; and if it does not lead directly to virtue through will, it brings them near to it insensibly through habits.”

Twenty-first century Americans have forgotten this ancestral insight—that “self-interest well understood” “forms a multitude of citizens who are regulated, temperate, moderate, farsighted, masters of themselves; and if it does not lead directly to virtue through will, it brings them near to it insensibly through habits.” Perhaps “self-interest well understood” sounds too much of Adam Smith’s invisible hand for present day Americans whose habit, like the French of Tocqueville’s time, increasingly is to look for solutions not to private collaboration but to an omnipresent government. Nineteenth-century Americans who turned to both neighbors and strangers in pursuit of mutual interests would be puzzled at the hard and fast boundary their twenty-first century descendants draw between public and private interest.

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Why I Am an Anarcho-Capitalist

LewRockwell2011Llewellyn H. Rockwell writes: A great many people – more than ever, probably – describe themselves as supporters of the free market today, in spite of the unrelenting propaganda against it. And that’s great. Those statements of support, however, are followed by the inevitable but: but we need government to provide physical security and dispute resolution, the most critical services of all.

Almost without a thought, people who otherwise support the market want to assign to government the production of the most important goods and services. Many favor a government or government-delegated monopoly on the production of money, and all support a government monopoly on the production of law and protection services.

This isn’t to say these folks are stupid or doltish. Nearly all of us passed through a limited-government – or “minarchist” – period, and it simply never occurred to us to examine our premises closely.state-vs-market-graphic

To begin with, a few basic economic principles ought to give us pause before we assume government activity is advisable:

  • Monopolies (of which government itself is a prime example) lead to higher prices and poorer service over time.
  • The free market’s price system is constantly directing resources into such a pattern that the desires of the consumers are served in a least-cost way in terms of opportunities foregone.
  • Government, by contrast, cannot be “run like a business,” as Ludwig von Mises explained in Bureaucracy. Without the profit-and-loss test, by which society ratifies allocation decisions, a government agency has no idea what to produce, in what quantities, in what location, using what methods. Their every decision is arbitrary, in a way directly analogous to the problem facing the socialist planning board (as Mises also discussed, this time in his famous essay “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth“).

In other words, when it comes to government provision of anything, we have good reason to expect poor quality, high prices, and arbitrary and wasteful resource allocation.

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