The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 54
The Proper Functions of Government
The Proper Functions of Government.
How far the Government should interfere in the social and industrial development of a people,—in other words what are the true functions of the State,—is shewn by the writings of political economists, and by the legislative history and present practice of different nations to be a very vexed question. Mr J. S. Mill says "At other times it has been a subject of controversy how governments should be constituted and according to what principles and rules they should exercise their authority; but it is now almost equally a question to what departments of human affairs that authority should extend." "No subject," he says, "has been more keenly contested in the present age," and he conceives that the question does not admit of any ¡universal solution," though he attempts to afford aid in various matters of detail on the general principle of expediency. (Polit. Econ. Book V. Chaps. I and XI.) Mr Fawcett also considers that there is nothing whatever in the principles of economical science to lead to the establishment of any general conclusion with regard to the advantages or disadvantages of State interference." Notwithstanding such high authority to the contrary, I respectfully submit that although economists differ undoubtedly in the details of their conclusions as to the limits of State intervention, yet they do agree for the most part as to certain general principles.
Of course, a writer who, like Herbert Spencer, sketches the State action and organisation of a statical or Utopian condition of society must be expected to take a more extreme view than one who, like J. S. Mill, deals with human nature as it is, rather than as it should be and possibly might be. And a statesman like Fawcett, living, moving, and having his being always in an old community in the highest state of development cannot be expected to see things in the same light as a Professor like Hearne who has spent the best years of his life in a colony which 50 years ago was a howling wilderness inhabited by barbarians. Again, a lawyer and philosopher like Bentham, who passed his life amidst the mercantile activity of England will be sure to differ somewhat in his views from a quondam-soldier, like Austin, who imbibed his principles of jurisprudence amid the militant life of Germany. Eliminating, however, all doubtful points and matters in which a difference of opinion actually does, and for various reasons may be expected to prevail, we get. I submit, certain underlying principles about which there appears to be tolerable unanimity.
Before, however, examining, corroborating and illustrating this any further, let me revert to the fact, if it be one, that the legislative history and present action of the leading Governments amongst civilized nations shew anything but the recognition of a uniform guiding principle as to intervention. In political matters, as in ethical and religious, the most contradictory and inconsistent opinions and fashions, if not at the same time, certainly at times not far distant from each other, have been in vogue. What is now most radical, eccentric, or tabooed may shortly be the accepted doctrine: whereas what is here most generally received and acted upon, may be there universally dis-carded. It would seem that no Government has ever had for any long time together any fixed rule of action. In no direction is it decided beforehand how far to go. An autocratic Government like that of Germany, acts according to the caprice of an individual. In a constitutional monarchy like England it is the whim of parliament or the popular will, which determines the direction or force of legislative intervention; and as to popular will, that, of course, has its incessant ebb and flow, Nowhere does there appear any fixity of principle. Everything page 6 is tentative and empirical like the science of medicine in the hands of many practitioners. It may be said that, as politics is not one of the exact sciences, it would be foolish to look therein for precision of conclusion or finality. Perhaps so; but without expecting any rigidity, should we not look for a greater amount of consistency than we at present see.—and the avoidence of which has been demonstrated by experience to be fatuous and injurious? In other words, do nations profit by their past errors or the lessons they learn from remote or contemporaneous history? Not by any means. It seems that every now and again, individually as well as nationally, we forget all that we have previously learned, and need to go to school again. And of course, we have to pay our school fees; for the highest kind of national education can never free, though it may be compulsory. It is said that a colony should profit largely by the experience of the parent—land. It sits, so to speak, on the shoulders of a giant, and therefore should have a wider field of observation, and be in a better position to choose a pleasant route and avoid a thorny one. But the benefit of such elevation is not so great as is generally supposed. A child could, if it chose, avoid the evil, and profit by the good teaching and example of its parent. It is wedded to no custom. It has youthful energy, virgin powers. It should choose the best. As a matter of fact, does it do so? No! It has in great part to learn for itself, and often enough it goes through the very same slough of mistake and failure and trouble, that its parent went through before it,—in order to gain even that modicum of wisdom which its father could easily have communicated.
But how little the wisdom is that even an old country like England can teach its children in reference to the matter we are now considering! Examine the Imperial Statute Book and see how full it is of slidings and backslidings. Look at the general policy and see how little there is in it of consistency. And as to legislation it has been computed recently that from the Stat, of Morton, 20, Henry III., there have been put into force in England 18110 public acts, of which no less than 4-5ths are now repealed. In the years 1870-1872 alone there were practically or wholly repealed 3,532 acts on account of their being obsolete, needless, consolidated, or injurious. Nine-tenths of the whole of the past legislation consists of repeals and amendments, and whenever a fresh departure has taken place and new ground, so to speak, has been broken up there has sprung therefrom spontaneously a crop of worthless weeds in the shape of unexpected evils and further needful departures, rather than the beneficent results that were contemplated. At one time,-indeed for many centuries, as is well known, State interference with the life and work and conduct of the individual was oppressive in the extreme. Men lived altogether according to the lines prescribed by a paternal government. Their sports, their occupations, the prices at which they had to buy and sell, their religious views, their clothing, their very speech had to be regulated, according to laws which we now shudder to think of—though it is not so impossible as many of us suppose, that such or the like tyranny might obtain at some future time again—even under a democratic form of rule—unless men are on their guard against gradual but insidious encroachment. Buckle says as to Legislation in England "that with the exception of certain necessary enactments respecting the preservation of order and the punishment of crime, nearly everything which has been done, has been done amiss." And when we remember the frighful punishments which till quite recently were inflicted for trifling offences, we need not, I think, recognise the exceptions. Buckle continues, "To take only conspicuous facts all the most important interests have been grievously damaged by the attempts of legislators to aid them. Every European Government which has legislated much respecting trade has acted as if its main object were to suppress the trade and ruin the traders." page 7 Recent English commercial reforms (1840-1860) "have solely consisted in undoing this mischievous and intrusive legislation" European commercial legislation at one time, indeed, presented every possible contrivance for hampering commercial energy; and Blanqui considers that but "for smuggling, trade could not have been conducted, but must have perished in consequence of this incessant interference." Duties on exportation and duties on importation, bounties and taxes, one branch forbidden, another branch encouraged, wages, prices, profits, interest, all regulated by law—a sliding scale of custom duties, tolls to quadruple cost of production,—markets, manufactures, shops,—all subject to interference; and most of this done by way of protection. "The moral effect of all this," Buckle concludes, "was worse than the economical," and the accusation that the historian is bound to bring against every government which has hitherto existed is that it has overstepped its proper functions and at each step done incalculable harm. To maintain order, to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak, and to adopt certain precautions respecting the public health are the only services which any government can render to the interests of civilization." (His., Civ., Vol. 1, p 258.) A modern writer thinks it was the chronic warfare of mediaeval days which led to such incessant government interference in agriculture, manufacture, trade, belief, dress, ornament, amusement, &c., but that the industrial activity and law of contract led to a change and the State began to recognise the right of citizens to uncontrolled liberty of action. The change came gradually but surely. Thanks to political events and wiser rulers, one by one the burdens were removed from the shoulders of the people. The greater part of legislative action soon came to be in the direction of repeal and this continued till quite recently. Now, however, for some time past, an unmistakable reaction has been setting in. Not-withstanding the loud ringing tones of an astute and alert watchman here and there, alarm is not taken, but Government aid is invoked at every turn. And herein lies the great difference between present legislative action and that of olden times. Once the laws were imposed upon the people without their being consulted—now the people themselves with like, or even more, disastrous effects however demand interference and ask for paternal legislation, and the vox populi in these days, notwithstanding the incongruity of a second chamber, is the vox Dei. Let trouble come as it may, Government is expected to step in and remove it. Hours of labor, Betting, Education, Charitable Aid, Life Insurance, &c.—it matters not what—the State is asked and is willing to forbid, to regulate, or to personally conduct it. Even Socialistic Associations are looking to bring about the adoption of their extreme views—nationalisation of land, e.g.—by State agency.
If we now look for a moment to other European nations, we shall see that while generally speaking the tendency in England has been from excessive intervention to normal non-intervention, the almost uniform rule elsewhere in Europe has been that the State should not only have to do with, but should actually entirely direct and regulate a every social and industrial movement. Perhaps to this circumstance more than to any other, is owing the greater degree of progress which England has made in the accumulation of wealth, the development of commerce, useful manufactures, invention, colonization. Every industrial movement, which in England through the energy, independence, and self-reliance of its people has thriven amazingly—on the Continent, though coddled by the Government and protected and regulated with every kind of mistaking forethought has either only enjoyed a sickly existence or has died a premature death. Generally speaking it may be said that England and the Continental nations in regard to every political and economical principle are on opposite sides—both in regard to theory and practice. And herein there is no page 8 reference to so backward a state as Russia, the Government of which you remember is defined as "Despotism tempered by assassination," but the shocking examples may be found among the most enlightened and advanced European nations. In France, e.g., the nearest to England in rank among civilized people, what do we see? Close centralisation even under a Republican form of rule. Our Gallic friends blazon la liberté, l'équlité et la fraternité "upon every public building; but if they had more of these priceless blessings, they would not be so boastful about them. They have been so accustomed to Government corks underneath them whenever they have ventured into deep water, that they have never yet learned to swim by themselves. And that is why they are such bad colonists.
In regard to Germany the ubiquitous and omnipotent Bismarck spares people the trouble and anxiety of thinking for themselves regarding any political question and employs them so mercilessly in military training that they necessarily acquire from its regimé their idea of political liberty. To throw light upon our problem we should not think of going to retrograde Spain or even rejuvenated Italy. Switzerland with its unique system of local self-government might be more instructive, and so undoubtedly would be the United States which would seem to be constituted on similar lines but of grander proportions. But we must narrow our enquiry, simply stating our conviction that a full investigation would show that upon the whole the examples of the most enlightened nations exhibit no fixed principle which has served as the web of legislative action, but that as a rule—except in the case of England during a part of her past history—systems have prevailed and do prevail which have not tended to the development of individual freedom or industrial prosperity, but have violated all the principles of political economy.
Let us then in the next place see what these principles are, and how far they are consistent with one another.
In the 'Wealth of Nations' there is no special chapter on the functions of Government, but incidentally there is much in the book to shew us what were the philosopher's opinions on the subject. In Book V. on the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth, he tells us that the Sovereign's Duties are (1st) To protect society from the violence or invasion of other independent societies; (2nd) To establish an exact administration of internal justice; 3rd. To erect and maintain those public institutions and other public works which, though in the highest degree advantageous to a great society, are, however, of such a nature that the profit could never repay the expense to any individual or small number of individuals, and which, therefore, it cannot be expected, that any individual or small number of individuals should erect or maintain. Under the latter head he provides for roads and bridges, and other things necessary for facilitating commerce in general, and also for public education and religious establishment, all of which he considers might be expected to defray their own expense, though, if this were not the case, he conceives that the cost might, with propriety, fall upon the whole community. In regard to education, however, he says the fee or honorary paid by or for the scholar to the Master naturally constitutes a revenue to meet the expense. In some supplementary remarks we find this pregnant sentence : "It is unjust that the whole Society should contribute towards an expense of which the benefit is confined to a portion of the Society." It is evident that Adam Smith did not devote as much consideration to the functions of Government as to the commercial or mercantile system and the other departments of his subject. Although no one would differ from him as to the first two duties of the Sovereign, there are many who would join issue with him as to the whole or some of the various heterogeneous matters comprised in the third.page 9
However, let us pass on to another political economist, scarcely inferior to the old Kirkaldy writer in reputation—J. S. Mill,—who, on our immediate subject is far more explicit and outspoken. He conceives the necessary functions of Government to be not only the protection of the subject against force and fraud, but also the regulation of inheritance, the definition of property, the enforcing of contracts, care of infants, and lunatics, coining of money, prescribing standards of weights and measures, and the care of streets, harbors, and lighthouses. All these necessary functions involve taxation, laws on property and contracts, judicature and police. The following, protection to native industry, the regulation of the price of money and food, the granting of monopolies, suppression of trades unions, &c., he conceives to be mostly interferences and to rest on false theories. He recognises the difficulty of deciding as to whether the 'lamer faire' doctrine of the Manchester School applies to questions like State education, hours of labor, public provision for poor, etc., and avows that there is no general principle to guide us. That intervention of Government which merely gives advice or information, or—while leaving freedom of action, establishes a side-by-side arrangement by way of securing a benefit,—he thinks not very objectionable, except in so far as it involves the expenditure of public money—which unfortunately it generally does. But authoritative intervention, interdicting certain things and prescribing others, or the manner of doing them, ought, he considers, to be very limited. He sees the great difficulty of drawing the line, but would certainly exclude from State control, everything which concerns only the life, inward and outward of the individual, and not affecting the interests of others or only affecting them by moral example. To be prevented from doing what one likes, he says, "is always irksome, tends, pro tanto to starve development and partakes of slavery." After examining the objections to intervention of public authority very fully he concludes that it should be restricted as much as possible, and that the doctrine of laisser faire should not be departed from except for some great good or such departure becomes a certain evil. It is evident therefore that Mill's doctrine is "general expediency" (Chap. I., Bk. V., "Polit. Econ.") Each case is to be considered on its separate merits. This is no solution of our difficulty, for as H. Spencer clearly shows, no term is more ambiguous than the word "expedient," except it be the term "happiness"—the uncertainty of whose signification prevents us from receiving much light from Bentham—when he says "the happiness of the individuals of which a community is composed, that is their pleasures and their security, is the sole end that the legislature ought to have in view, the sole standard with which each individual ought, as far as depends upon the legislature, to be made to fashion his behaviour." The definition of happiness herein attempted, involves the same uncertainty of meaning as the word defined, and the limitation,—"as far as depends upon the legislature"—leaves us as much in the dark as ever.
Similarly I find little or no help in a recent writer, quoted with apparent approval by the Hon. Mr. Stout in his late speech on public education. "The true function of the State is to make the most of the citizen. This is its only inexhaustible function." To make the most of the citizen!—how I Financially, intellectually, artistically, spiritually, or physically?—and for whom, for himself? or for the State i (Even Bastiat, in his Harmonies—never could quite see that the interest of the individual was identical with that of the State)—and for what I for time or for eternity I And with what means? with any (the end justifying the means) or with only certain ones? There is no instruction—to my mind—in indefinite language of this kind. It only serves to make darkness more Cimmerian.page 10
Humboldt, in his writings on the "Sphere and Duties of Government," is referred to by Matthew Arnold in "Culture and Anarchy," as shewing that the operations of Government ought to be severely limited to what directly relates to the security of person and property. This is thoroughgoing enough; and we cannot help marvelling therefore at the German Philosopher's inconsistency when we find him subsequently becoming Minister of Education in his native land and helping to transfer the management of all schools in Prussia to the State.
Now let us turn to Herbert Spencer. In "Man v. the State," a reprint of four remarkable articles which appeared last year in the "Contemporary," there is much that bears upon our subject. However, H. Spencer, as far as I know, never lived, perhaps never was in an Australasian Colony or examined the tendency of our N.Z. Legislation. If such had been the case, he would, I am persuaded, have lifted up his powerful voice more vehemently, more trenchantly than ever he has done in favor of the doctrine of non-intervention on the part of the State. For the revived tendency to intervention which has for some years been apparent at Home, is here intensified. Just as the old world flora and fauna when brought into the new world, flourish to a surprising degree and attain a greater average size than could have been expected—so physical and social and political diseases seem here, when they secure a footing to have a development that is always exceptional and sometimes extraordinary.
H. Spencer hesitates not to give us a general or first principle—although other economists assert that such a thing cannot be found. Substantially, this is what he says:—The laws of life which are at the bottom of social phenomena shadow forth the truth of which we are in quest. Liberty is essential to growth and life, and when individuals live in society, each is entitled to all liberty which is not inconsistent with the liberty of his fellows. What prompts men to live in society? Love of companionship and experience of the advantages to be got from co-operation. The condition of co-operatiou is mutual advantage, division of prey, booty, &c. To this end, as well as non-interference with action, there must be freedom of contract and enforcement thereof. The divine right of parliaments and of majorities is superstition. Subordination of the minority to the majority is only justifiable for the maintenance of the vital principle, i.e., to preserve each citizen in the means of satisfying his desires and of getting further means without treading on the liberty of others.
So much for "Man v. the State." But it is not from this book that we get the most complete view of Spencer's theory of the functions of Government, but rather from his "Social Statics," which has now long been published. Some of the views therein expressed, particularly those relating to the liberty of women and children he has since qualified—in the main, however, his ideas seem to be unchanged. Those of us who know the book in question—and there are probably many such present—will remember that the author says if we are to get at a right principle at all it must be by assuming a perfect moral state. He scouts the idea of Bentham's Expediency or Mill's Utility being of any service, and advocates in lieu thereof, and as a first principle, this doctrine : God wills human happiness, i.e., the gratification of the desires; i.e., the exercise of the faculties.. Therefore, man has a right to the liberty of employing all his faculties but with consideration for the like liberty of others. 'What concerns all should be approved of all.' Every man should be free to do what he will, provided he infringe not the equal freedom of others. From this he justifies these rights of man—-life, liberty, free use of earth, right to acquire property in goods, ideas, and character, liberty of exchange, free speech. He quotes with approval rc political rights the slaying of page 11 Blackstone 'No human laws are of any validity if contrary to the laws of nature.' A state, he says, is a body of men voluntarily associated for mutual protection. Analogy leads us to assign only one function to one organ. The one function of the State is to secure to the subject the possession and use of his rights and to protect him from aggression by his fellow citizens or outsiders. The taking up of other duties is in itself aggresive. Such matters as regulation of commerce, religious establishment, poor laws, national education, government colonization, sanitary supervision, even currency and postal matters are not the business of Government, and should be left to be attended to by the parties principally interested. They would not be neglected if such a course were taken.
A more recent writer—Henry Fawcett, the late mentally-far-seeing but bodily-blind Postmaster—recognises that political economists and others interested in social subjects are divided, re State intervention, into two parties—the one intelligent, active, philanthropic, and sympathetic, would have Government to do much more than it has ever yet done; the other, smaller, more philosophic and thoughtful, says—no—much less. He opposes both schools, and thinks evil and confusion will result from adopting any general rule. Each case he would consider, like Mill, on its merits, and holds up those who would oppose compulsory State education as an instructive warning against becoming indoctrinated with laissez-faire principles. But he says that all admit that Government interference is not good in itself. "Probably the best measure that can be obtained of the welfare of a community is to ascertain to what extent each member of it can with advantage to all the rest be permitted to have freedom of action." e.g., the extent to which the State interferes re education is a measure of popular ignorance and the extent to which it regulates the terms of labor of children measures the cupidity of employers and parents. So he concludes that Government interference should be regarded as a necessary but disagreeable remedy to cure social defects : like a strong medicine it leaves serious consequences and should therefore be given cautiously. Legislation is a perilous experiment which statesmen should use with circumspection. If they pass enactments for party purposes or to gain immediate popularity, they may ruin their country.
Now this is one of the latest words on the subject, and truly I think one of the wisest. With Mr Fawcett's opinion, however, as to the inadequacy of political economy to furnish any general conclusion as to the advantages or disadvantages of State interference, I have said, that I don't agree—unless by general conclusion we must understand a hard-and-fast line to be universally drawn between such things as may be wisely legislated about and such things as may not. A rule which should fit all cases in a science so mixed and complicated as that of legislation need not be looked for; but I submit that the opinions of leading economists herein examined (even those of Mill and Fawcett themselves)—divergent and opposed as they are in some particulars nevertheless sufficiently bring into prominence certain leading principles which it would be well for our statesmen to thoroughly grasp and apply as far as possible in legislative work.
The first duty of the State is undoubtedly protection—the maintenance of the subject in his natural rights. Justice tempered by mercy if you like—but still justice should be the mortar or cement to bind together the different parts of the edifice of the State. Love takes its place in the household or family. A paternal Government which endeavours to combine State—with family—principles, justice with philanthropy or charity, is a hybrid affair that is likely to miss or mar the discharge of all its proper duties—a mesalliance that must result in unhappiness. Out of mistaking humanitarianism, it relieves the idle and worthless at the expense of the industrious and thrifty, the page 12 foolish at the cost of the wise, and thus wars against the law of the Survival of the Fittest, and becomes truly an impediment to progress instead of a help thereto. About this, although practically it may be ignored in many quarters most people are theoretically agreed. With a view to affording protection it is, of course, necessary for the State to make provision for defence against external enemies by establishing, equipping, and providing for naval and military forces, and constructing fortifications, etc.—as well as to secure the life and property of citizens against the carlessness, cupidity, or violence of one another, and so criminal and civil law and the administration of justice by judicial officers and police, are needed. Property has to be defined and the interests held therein. Modes of contract, the laws of inheritance, and of transmission of estates have to be provided. Bentham says : "In Legislation the most important object is security; secure to the cultivator the fruits of his labour, and you have probably done enough." As a matter of fact, however, no Government has ever limited itself to this work, nor does so now. The aggressive tyranny of the one, the few, or the many has made large inroads into human rights instead of securing them; and humanity has become so much accustomed to the present state of things—call it slavery or protection or what you will—that it must of necessity be now very difficult if not impossible to realize the consummation which is so devoutly to be wished. Anyhow we shall certainly not see it for some time, nor is it desirable that we should. Violent changes have always immediately, at all events, disastrous consequences. Whatever the surrounding circumstances may be and although they may be such as impede true progress, men grow accustomed to their environment, and after a fashion thrive. Renan on State action says, "A liberal believes in liberty and liberty signifies the non-intervention of the State. But such an ideal is still a long way from us, and the very means to remove it to an indefinite distance would be precisely the State withdrawing its action too soon." Slaves when freed invariably commit excesses. But the first step towards realizing a great good is truly to comprehend its nature—and the second is to conceive a strong desire for it; and I fear mankind, as a whole, have taken neither the first step nor the second as yet in the direction of diminished State intervention.
Now it being granted that the primary, if not the sole, duty of the State is to afford security—and as no State or people is satisfied with this ideal simplicity of function, we have still to enquire what are the common principles, if any, which really underlie all the apparently inconsistent theories of political economists as to the numerous other duties which Governments undertake. Mill's doctrine of general expediency, as the limit of State action, as we have said, is no solution of the difficulty, for it necessitates a definition of what is expedient. It is arguing in a circle. Bentham's greatest happiness of greatest number" is equally untrustworthy; for no two persons can agree probably as to wherein happiness consists. Besides even if the majority in a State do agree as to what is expedient, or as to what makes them happy, why should the minority be forced to accept the more-numerously subscribed definition? If there be any unwritten compact under which a society is formed after its constituent individuals have congregated by accident or for the sake of companionship together, it contains only two words "mutual protection." Now as Spencer says, if a company be formed for a specific object, it may fairly claim to legislate and act for the realisation of that object, and so far it has the authority of every individual member of that company, for what it does. But if it wander into other fields of action in order to achieve other objects perhaps not even collateral, it can scarcely plead the same authority for interfering with the liberties or wealth of its members, Therefore, as "mutual protection" is the one object, presumably, page 13 lying at the foundation of society—if the State enters upon any other work, it does so without the fully authority of its citizens. If this deduction be logically drawn, we must accept Herbert Spencer's first principle in legislation on matters outside of provision for security—modified, however, slightly, as society is not in a perfect or statical condition.
1. "Every man should be free, As far as Possible Under Existing Circumstances, to do what he will, provided he in fringe not the equal freedom of any other man."
2. "That the functions of the State outside of protection to life and property should be limited as much as possible."
This is, I believe, another mode of expressing the same idea as that contained in the first principle but it has many more subscribers.
Then there is the principle which I quoted previously from Adam Smith, and as to which the best economists also agree.
3. "It is unjust that the whole society should be required to con tribute towards an expense of which the benefit is confined to a portion of the society only"
In other words, general taxation should be only for matters of common benefit, and not for things of merely local interest. And this should be strictly construed, for otherwise it would be possible to make every merely local affair a matter of common interest, inasmuch as we are all parts of the same body politic—and, just as in the human body, the sympathy between the different parts is considerable, even so in any nation the weal or woe of a remote district in a less or greater degree affects the well-being of the whole. Fawcett says, "No demand is so insidious as those calling in central authority to benefit one section of the community by levying contributions upon the rest,"—and this is the strong argument against poor laws, free education, and such things.
I add another principle which appears to me equally founded with the preceding.
4. "That the Government should undertake for the people no function that could be equally well discharged by the people for themselves."
I am not sure that, carefully examined, these four canons would not turn out to be merely various modes of putting the same truth. Well, there must be something in a proposition which has so many facets of vraisemblance Mill, in his logic, says, "All propositions concerning the complex phenomena of social life must be hypothetical only and not facts. They must not assert that something will surely happen, but that such and such will be the effect of a given cause if it operates uncounteracted." It may be objected that these canons are chiefly negative. To my mind that is a decided advantage. Government learns readily enough what to do, but has considerable difficulty in ascertaining and determining, in the face of popular clamor what not to do.
5. "That we ought to look to the State for justice, but not for love (H. S.")
6. "That every case of proposed State intervention ought to be considered on its own merits" (Fawcett and Mill)—can, as I have said, be really and readily found underlying or on the Surface of the opinions of the best economists, in actual political page 14 practice, we have so far departed from original virtue, if it ever existed, that they are practically never recognised. There are two reasons for this.
The first is that even well-educated people, electors, members of Parliament, even Statesmen, have no faith whatever in the conclusions of political economy. These conclusions, they say, may be all very well in theory, but in practice we have and must have something quite different. It is pleaded that they have never yet anywhere been adopted as fixing the limits of legislative action; and thus the very existence and universality and permanence of evil and injustice and waste of force are made arguments for their continuance. It is useless in such a case to point out that what is true in theory must indicate what is just in practice; for to many minds it is plain that the theoretical conclusions themselves are not by any means so clear as could be wished; and perhaps not one of them is capable of such demonstration as would obtain in mathematics or physical science. That, however, arises from the nature of the subject-matter with which political economy has to deal. Factors must be weighed for which ordinary logical scales do not suffice. Every question is marvellously complicated and is found to have all sorts of unforeseen and unsuspected relations to other questions and conclusions, perhaps in themselves not well established but which we do not desire for various reasons to disturb. In the difficulty that thus arises and in the dread of interfering with existing related interests and prepossessions,-guidance is sought for in the practice of older nations and prior times; and unfortunately, adherence to such simple general principles as those indicated is seen to have been in the past and to be in the present nowhere observed. And then the authorities who entertain a contrary opinion are called to mind—Carey or Wakefield, e.g., the latter of whom says that" without plenty of Government the settlement of a waste country is barbarous and miserable work," and that in fact, in a young colony the quantity of Government is more important than its quality. Thus political economy is regarded as speaking with an uncertain voice and as being untrustworthy. The relative weight of authority is never considered, and even if it be—while in the one scale we have the conclusions of the most profound thinkers—in the other we have the opinions of shallow but ready writers and the practice of nations generally. Indolence and indisposition to work out for ourselves a hard problem, and fear of disturbing the existing and dread of a new regime are all thrown into the already descending scale and down it goes with a satisfactory bump. "Who fears new remedies, must abide old evils." All this is very pitiable and unfortunate and makes the fight against the prevailing tendency a very up-hill one. But it is none the less the duty of those who think they see matters a little more clearly, to speak out at opportune time and in suitable place—without fear of consequences,—if without much hope of the desired result.
So much for the first cause of the non-recognition of the conclusions of economists. It is, put otherwise, simply, human ignorance. The second cause is human selfishness—selfishness in those who having the reins of government in their hands, see that the more work they have to do the greater their influence and power will be, and sefishness in those who so to speak sit behind in the Government cars, urge on the drivers and without thought of others are only intent on arriving at their own objects with State assistance. To all such people what matters it that they are unjust to their fellow-subjects. If we don't rob the community, say they, others will. Our private share in the liabilities of the bankrupt state will be considerably less than what we shall secure for ourselves beforehand through preference—which though perhaps fraudulent can never be brought in as such, inasmuch as the State is above ordinary insolvent laws.page 15
I said just now that it is our duty to speak plainly about these matters. It is especially desirable to speak out at this present time in the world's history because there is no doubt that there is now and has been for the past 50 years—ever since the reconstruction of the British Electorate by the passage of the Reform Bill in 1832—a growing disposition on the part of the people and therefore of the Government of nearly every nation to extend in almost every direction the sphere of the State's operations. The dicta of political economists are occasionally referred to by public writers or speakers, but no real influence results from such spasmodic utterances. An honorable member of an independent turn of mind now and then raises his voice against this or that measure as being outside the proper functions of the State. A conscientious Minister of the Crown perhaps is loud in his complaints that the addition of this or that duty to the already overworked staff of his department is clogging the wheels of Government machinery, and interfering with proper social development. But both the one and the other are impotent to stem the advancing tide, and, stifling their honest consciences they bow to necessity. A short but able article in the "Ency. Brit." shows that while in recent times there has been a further and further restriction of State action as to two things—religion and limitation of contract—there has been in reference to almost everything else undoubtedly a great increase. Education, the regulation of labor in the case of women and children, dangerous employments, sanitary matters, public convenience, professional qualifications, coercion for moral purposes, wages, lotteries, sale of liquors, amusements. &c., are the subject matter of multitudinous enactments and are far more under the control of the Government than ever they were before. The whole business has a natural tendency to increase, not in arithmetical but in geometrical progression. What is very properly called political momentum is enormous. A course of legislative action is begun and its indirect results are not, perhaps cannot be, estimated. Soon it is seen that further enactments are rendered necessary unless the first is to become null and void. And then come repeals of the whole or portions of previous acts, amendments, amendments of amendments, and when the law on any particular branch becomes so complicated by all this as to become ridiculous and unworkable, we have consolidations, in which, however, there is no finality, but simply a new starting-point for the same miserable rigmarole.
This was not, however, Sir Thos. More's ideal. He says in Utopia "They have but few lawes; for to people so instructe and institute very few do suffice. Yet this thing they chiefly reprove among other nations, that innumerable bokes of lawes and expositions upon the same be not sufficient. But they think it against all right and justice that men should be bound to those lawes which either be in number more than be able to be read or els blinder or darker than that anye man can well understand them. Furthermore they utterlie exclude and banishe all attornies, proctours, and sergeaunts at the lawe, which craftelye handele matters and subteley dispute of the lawes. For they think it moste meete that every man should pleade his own matter and tell the same tale before the judge that he wold tell to his man of lawe. So shall there be less circumstance of words and the trueth shall soner come to light whiles the judge with a discrete judgment do the weigh the words of him whom no lawyer hath instructe with deceit. This is hard to be observed in other countries in so infinite a number of blinde and intricate lawes."
Again, in Utopia, I read. The chiefe and almoste the onlye offyce of the Syphograuntes (or Magistrates elected by the people) is to see and take hede that no manne sit idle; but that every one applye his owne craft with earnest diligence, and yet for all that not to be wearied page 16 from earlie in the morninge to late in the eveninge with continuale worke like labouringe and toy linge beastes." Happy Utopia! For, industry being secured, there would be absent a host of temptations that frail humanity now succumbs to. Private energy and co-operation would meet all human necessities and satisfy all mortal wants. With a people thoroughly industrious and not jaded with work even the necessary administration of criminal and civil law would be less frequently called into requisition; for as the Spaniards say, "While the Devil tempts most men, the idle man tempts the Devil," and soon finds himself either breaking contracts, or committing torts or crimes. But there is no direct steam communication with Utopia, indeed its whereabouts, however much we might desire to emigrate there, would be very difficult to find. Instead of confining Government action to any one function, now the tendency is to make it discharge every individual duty, every social obligation. Whenever anything goes wrong we have acquired the habit of thinking that the State alone can and that the State alone must, step in and put matters right. Once, individual energy aided by the mighty lever of co-operation would have endeavored to remove the obstruction. Now great Jove is appealed to in the shape of the Minister of Public Works or the Treasurer. It matters not whether the thing to be done be great or small. Is it a railway that needs to be constructed to open up a piece of country or join two commercial centres? The State must do the work, although already it is overburdened with debt—and although the direct benefit from the line, if any result at all, will be chiefly, if not entirely, local. Is it the Codling Moth that has made its appearance in our orchards! We let the pest so firmly establish itself that perhaps no remedy short of the entire destruction of apple crop of a season can be of any avail, and then the Government, in response to representation made as to the magnitude of the evil, passes an act to stop the importation of suspected fruit, and "to provide measures for the destruction of the insect known as Carpocapsapomeonella"—which measures, as it rests with the inhabitants of any locality to bring them into operation, are simply inoperative. Seeing this to be the case Parliament appoints subsequently a Committee of Enquiry, consisting of members who know nothing about the matter and care less, and so perform their duties of collecting information and reporting thereupon in a manner essentially perfunctory. Eventually, perhaps, an Act will be passed, which, indirectly, will do far more harm than directly it will do good, inasmuch as it will probably subject the good and industrious husbandman to vexatious and intolerable surveillance, weaken his sense of responsibility, and make him smart under a feeling of injustice, because he is made to suffer for the neglect and indolence of his neighbor. Would it not be easy to multiply examples of this kind of thing in every direction?
What M. Arnold says of the British nation is very true of this portion of it:—"We show laudable energy and persistence in walking according to the best light we have, but are not quite careful enough to see that our light be not darkness."
It will be said by some that State action is, after all, only cooperation on a large scale—on such a scale indeed as is needful to the realisation of the full advantage that is aspired to. In seme cases this is certainly true—i.e. where the evil to be removed or the benefit to be gained affects all the subjects of the State alike. Here, State action is really not substitutive, but direct action by the individuals interested—whose ministers or servants, in such a case, the statesmen in office and the executive departments, undoubtedly are. It is the recognition of the desirability of such State-action as this, that led me to modify H. Spencer's first principle before accepting it. Such matters as currency and postal work, I conceive to be legitimately within the functions of the State according to the 3rd principle above given—i.e. page 17 because they affect all subjects of the State. When we find Herbert Spencer therefore relegating them to private control, we cannot help thinking that for the sake of an ideal simplicity of philosophy—the theorist pushes his biological analogy—one organ, one function—to a foolish extreme. We see the same tendency in our author as to the liberties of women and children. When we find so much in him with which it is impossible not to agree,—it gives as almost a shock to find that the guide, who helps us on our way by the light of his wide information and genius, must not be followed implicitly, lest in avoiding Charybdis we fall into Syclla. However, to return, when State-action is regarded as co-operation on an extensive scale, let it be observed that in ordinary industrial co-operation there is none of that compulsion which the State brings forward to diminish personal liberty and private wealth. If a man conscientiously holds himself aloof from a co-operative movement in his neighborhood, however desirable it may be, he will not be subject to much of a penalty for his churlishness. Possibly he may socially be ostracised and being of an independent and cynical turn—rather enjoy his isolation than otherwise. In other respects he will be in statu quo. But in reference to State action, a man cannot retain his domicile and at the same time hold aloof. To withdraw himself from the operation of an Act of Parliament which he regards as obnoxious, he must emigrate to another country where probably he will be subject to some exaction or interference, equally, or more vexatious. Besides this, all movements are accompanied by friction and loss. And further, it may be that what the State proposes to remedy presses upon a man personally, but he has a private means of removing or enduring the weight—if, however the State comes upon him with its legislation, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, he must adopt the remedy prescribed and none other.
1.—Yet even with their eyes open to all these arguments, there are those who justify the enlargement of State action, because they suppose that Government can do better work than private effort. It is simply notorious that, for very sufficient reasons, whatever the State does, costs far more and as a rule achieves far less of the direct and intended results than would be the case if the work were in private hands, or under the control of an ordinary commercial company. As to the cost, Fawcett says, "Avidity is shown in getting as much as possible locally out of the State coffers, but it is forgotten that each Is in the national treasury represents more than Is taken out of the taxpayer's pocket." There is no doubt whatever that the large and rapidly-increasing indebtedness of modern nations and colonies, especially some of them, and notably our own, arises largely from this unnatural usurpation of ordinary social functions. Professor Newman says "until centralisation is admitted permanent debt is not incurred," (lecture on Reorganisation of English Institutions) and of course the more intense the centralisation becomes, the greater is the tendency to the accumulation of debt. State money is never so economically or wisely spent as that raised locally or personally. It is one of the arguments against the carrying on of business by Co-operative Companies, that the paid manager cannot have that zeal in his work which he would have if the enterprise and its gains and losses were his own. In the case of an enormons company like the State the sense of individual risk and interest is proportionately diminished. Civil Servants sometimes say that the public is the worst master in the world because it is never pleased or even satisfied with the work done. This may be so; but in another sense the public is the most indulgent and easily-satisfied of masters, for its united voice as expressed through Parliament is the only voice which is listened to or cared for, and that voice it is very difficult for the dissatisfied individual or individuals to page 18 raise. Consequently there cannot in the nature of things be the same ardour and anxiety to please on the part of the public servant with an income fixed or increasing progressively and independently of the public favor, as there is on the part of him who offers his services in the open market and receives patronage and income proportionate to the success with which he manages the business concern entrusted to him. This implies no reflection on Civil Servants individually nor indeed upon any one body of them collectively. Any others in their position would do just the same. It is only natural that it should be so. And this gives us one reason why Government work is costly, but there are others scarcely inferior in importance. There is greater carelessness in the expenditure of public money—less circumspection and greater chicanery in accepting contracts—less judgment and care in entering on enterprises. No one feels himself personally responsible. A private individual knows that a foolish enterprise, if the operations be large, means ruin to him. A nation cannot be ruined in the same sense, for the public purse besides being deep, is constantly being replenished by continuous or increased taxation. The bankruptcy of this nation no one would feel to be so disgraceful to him as the bankruptcy of himself. Hence, in spite of Parliamentary espionage and press criticism and public dissatisfaction, departmental expenditure is always more lavish and unproductive than private outlay, and all the little economies which collectively amount up to so large a sum are disregarded. Would it be difficult in this Colony to point out where public money has been recklessly squandered, where public works have been shamefully mismanaged, where work has been begun and left after a time in such an unfinished state that even that achieved is comparatively useless and unprofitable?
And what does it all result in? A property tax of one penny in the and 20 per cent, import duties, and even then deficient revenue! We pay heavy taxes now in New Zealand, but we pay them grudgingly. With lower prices for produce—or perhaps I ought rather to say with continuously low prices, and therefore times more depressed—we shall not be content to pay such taxes at all. Before '89 in France we know that oppressive taxation in various objectionable forms—la corvee, la taille du roi, la subvention, la vingtième, la gabelle, etc., etc.—was the main cause of that misery and discontent which, ignited by an accidental spark, burst into the flames of revolution. Such a thing, I presume, could take place under a democratical as well as under a monarchical tyranny.
2.—But besides being more costly—even where carried through—Government work is far less efficient than private enterprise. Does anyone believe that the Union Company's steamers would have been so successfully managed if the Government had had them in hand I When the State manages matters, things are allowed to drift that ought to receive immediate attention. There is no stitch in time. An honest and good servant, when found, is not sufficiently appreciated. Those without the requisite knowledge and experience through nepotism command positions of responsibility. Would it be difficult to find in connection with our railway lines in this Colony, instances where the comfort and convenience of travellers are never studied, where rolling stock is altogether inadequate to occasional requirements, where the element of danger is largely increased through neglect in ballasting, where the lines have been made exactly across the hills which they should have circumvented, where the speed and time-table are so adjusted that coaches have to run for 30 miles alongside of the lines in order to keep regular appointments? To make a thing pay a private company would make it efficient and indispensable to the public. Government cares to do neither the one thing nor the other and so has to work its business at a loss.page 19
3.—And there are several other evil results, besides cost and inefficiency of work, that flow directly or indirectly from excessive State interference. One is that, co-operation, which should be the remedy for many of the evils of humanity is decidedly checked, and again the sense of personal and individual responsibility and self-reliance are much weakened. Whereas, if the State had not undertaken so many duties for us, we should, whenever difficulty assailed us, or a pressing want arose, bestir ourselves to supply the one and remove the other—now that a fatherly Government has us in hand, our energies lie dormant, and we selfishly decline to make any personal sacrifice, however needful, until the law compels us. And whereas if the initiative had come from ourselves we should probably continue, by persistent effort, to try to further the desired end, now that the initiative proceeds from the State, we render no more assistance than we possibly can help. And so personal character is deteriorated. It is a well-recognised law in Biology that parasitism or semi-parasitism leads to degeneration and aslophy of the organs. And what is true of animal and vegetable life is equally true of Social. Here is a spiritual principle given by a recent able writer—Henry Drummond, "Any principle which secures the safety of the individual without personal effort or the vital exercise of faculty is disastrous to moral character." How profoundly true this is of the State, by whose excessive parental care, earnestness, independence, self-reliance, inventiveness, mutual confidence, enterprise, industry are all checked, and in place thereof we develope child-like indifference, and submissiveness, and helplessness unworthy of true men!
4.—Besides we must remember that the evil will and must of necessity grow. Periodical visits of the Dentist are now made to at least one of the elementary schools of England at a cost of £60 per annum to the School Board fund; and free breakfasts and dinners are not unfrequently supplied. In this Colony, it has already been contended that it is more necessary for the State to look after secondary education than primary, and worse still, the proposition has been seriously made, that the State shall build houses for poor workmen. With houses built for as by the Government, what should hinder us from becoming as degenerate as Hermit crabs.—As greater and more pressing political questions get themselves resolved—and even before this happens—the ceaseless activity of Ministers and Members, who apparently think that they are to be judged by Wakefield's standard—the quantity rather than the quality of their work—will find other subject-matter about which to legislate. "L'appetit vient en mangeant." Personal conduct and private life will be interfered with. The regulation of the hours of labor of the employed and their holidays—the appointment of a public trustee, and institution of Government Insurance to weaken our confidence in one another—proposals for making advances to settlers at less rates than those which are produced by the operation of the ordinary laws of supply and demand—gaming and lotteries acts and other similar attempts to produce statutory morality which is no morality at all—the undertaking occasionally to find work for the clamorous unemployed, while the more deserving, but less impudent, are never thought of—all such things as these are the thin end of the wedge. We shall soon be sur-rounded with so many petty but irritating regulations that life will not be worth living, and true liberty will become a thing of the past. For, different sections of the community, each with its own peculiar craze, will demand legislation in that particular social or moral direction which it affects. Henry George's followers will demand the nationalization of land—protectionists and fair traders will require a departure from the principles which have mainly produced the present commercial supremacy of the British Empire—rigid Sabbatarians will page 20 ask for further restrictions re the day of rest—the Blue Ribbonites and Teetotallers will make it, if possible, more difficult for the moderate, that is truly sober man to get his glass of beer by way of refreshment—the old ladies of both sexes will check the progress of experimental and illustrative science by demanding laws against vivisection—those intent on the moral improvement of mankind will move heaven and earth to bring in their codes of regulations as drastic as the laws of early New England. In addition to all the class legislation that will thus arise, precedent, Government by party, the need to supplement defective measures, the growing faith in Government omnipotence, the strange aspiration of young men for Government service, though it is well known to be the grave of hope, of energy and of genius—the vis inertiae of all exerting forces—everything will tend to increase the Government monopoly and influence and to extend the sphere of State legislation and action.
There is in fact some danger that the whole business will break down of its own weight—sooner or later. Perhaps from our point of view we ought to call this thought a source of comfort rather than of insecurity—and to say, let it be sooner rather than later. There is more than one State just now with its hands too full of work altogether—more than one colony of which the Government departments are overburdened with business, while stagnation prevails in remote districts. This is a most unhealthy condition of society. Just as in the human body, excessive absorption of nutriment by one limb or organ will develope local disease, an excrescence or a monstrosity—but general atrophy—so in the body politic, absorption by Government of too much money and too many duties implies that the central public departments will be congested with work, while the general com-munity will have too little civil occupation. The remedy for this is more and more local Government on discreet lines. Why should Government be an exception to the general economic law of differentiation of function—which has mainly contributed to produce in industrial occupations, excellence of work and cheapness of price? It may be said that multiplication of departments sufficiently complies with the principle of differentiation. But this is not so. So long as the State makes itself responsible for the whole—and for the final result—this is not social or economic differentiation at all but only a mere make-believe.
5.—If the happiness of an individual consists as we are told it does in the full employment of all the faculties—presumably the well-being of a nation is capable of similar definition, and consequently in so far as a Government usurps the functions of its people and throws their energies out of employment and their capital out of its natural channels, it was really against their happiness under the pretence of serving them. If the Government does for the people on a large scale that which each section of the people should do for itself on a small scale, a vast amount of talent and capacity that would otherwise find scope, will be thrown out of action and from desuetude will dwindle away, and the pleasure which arises from local and personal interest in the success of local and personal matters will never be excited. With Railways, Telegraphs, Telephones, Insurance business, Forestry, Banking work, Public Trustee's Office, &c., &c., &c., all in the hands of Government—there will soon be no room, no occupation at all in our community that I know of, for a private individual of an independent turn of mind. We shall each of us have to become a wheel, or a window, or a plank, or a peg in the great National Car of Juggernaut, or we shall be crushed to atoms underneath it! !
6.—And there is another aspect of the matter well-deserving of the attention which it has, even so early, received. We are tending to absolute uniformity of character and type.page 21
"Ground in yonder social mill
We rub each other's angles down,
And merge . . . in form and gloss
The picturesque of man and man."
As long as the State leaves to Society its multifarious avocations and strictly limits its own operations to functions that undoubtedly belong to it, each individual has abundant choice as to how he shall employ his energies, how educate himself; and there will be an individuality generally speaking about each social atom, while the whole social body will display a pleasing and useful variety of character and attainments, the different mutually-beneficial idiosyncrasies being blended together in a many-hued whole. Very soor. what with our uniform system of education, and the ponderous weight of uniform laws, and the monoply of many different kinds of work by the State, we shall become like the Chinese in monotonous sameness and indistinctness of outline, and like them we shall be stationary, whereas in the past we have been progressive and inventive. Our individuality will be lost altogether and though in conformity with Nature's "carefulness of the type but carelessness of the single life," the law that
"The individual shall perish,"
That the world be more and more"
maybe all very well as a philosophical and abstract conception, yet it is not one which we can personally and individually regard with much satisfaction.
7.—Again not the least of the evils resulting from the Government adopting the paternal character and holding itself ready to legislate in any direction, and so undertake any kind of work, is that representatives of necessity become mere delegates, rather than statesmen. Each electoral district has or thinks it has some pressing want or wants and only that candidate who pledges himself to do his best to gain the desired object has the slightest chance of being elected. There is no thought of the rest of the community or of the general requirements and policy of the nation—no remembranee of the fact that "self-denial is the corner-stone of religious and political economy," (Lecky. His. Rat. Vol. II. page, 400)—no scruple about taxing the whole community for the benefit of a small part thereof. We are taxed for the benefit of other places, let other places therefore pay for our requirements! And we are not going to keep or abide by a mere business-like debtor and creditor account either! Let us get as much as we can! We may trust other districts to do likewise! Hence demoralization in electors and elected. Hence log-rolling in the House with all its vicious consequences. All of which would be avoided if the State kept more closely to the fundamental principles of wise and just legislation and action.
8.—And consider how incomplete and inconsistent State inter-vention—however energetic and conscientious—must be. This arises not alone from the magnitude of the work undertaken but from the various interests involved and the complicated character of State machinery. Take an example. Why should doctors, and lawyers, and schoolmasters be required to legally qualify themselves for their professional work, while at the same time Members of Parliament have no such ordeal to pass through, and need not, and I fear I must say oftentimes do not, possess even the elements of a polite education? Can it be said that the work of the legislator is less important than that of the surgeon or solicitor! Surely it is far more important; for a Parliament by its Ministers may declare a disastrous war, and by the making of laws masses of people actually living and yet to be born will be directly or indirectly affected; whereas the ordinary professional man has a very limited sphere of action. Your doctor's page 22 remedies if disliked or found ineffective may be thrown into the gutter and a rival may be called in. But the medicines that the Legislature prescribes must be taken, however much you may doubt their efficacy, or loathe them. Perhaps you think that the election campaign is the ordeal that a member has had to pass in lieu of entrance examination. He has certainly had to respond from the public platform to multitudinous pertinent or impertinent questions. But who and what are the examiners? Do they themselves know the principles of statesmanship? Are their questions calculated to test the candidate's fitness or unfitness for the important role he proposes to play? And is a ready repartee, or a shuffling evasion, or a piece of brazen impudence never successfully resorted to by the examinee as a means of getting out of a difficulty? Yet what Government ever dare to propose to put elected members through an examination in the principles of statesmanship, legislation, general history, social and industrial development, before admitting them to seats in the House? The howl of indignation which would fill our House of Representatives if such a thing were proposed can be more easily imagined than described. Yet both for consistency's sake and in order to secure something like statesman-ship in our National Councils it would be well perhaps if we had such a scheme. But, say some, we don't want learned men in the House, such men as would succeed in passing examinations, but practical common-sense men. What nonsense! Because, forsooth you meet occasionally with a man who has book-learning but no world-knowledge, you would conclude that the two things are necessarily divorced and antagonistic? Does not the history of almost every civilized nation show a long roll of able statesmen who at the same time have been men of letters and otherwise conspicuously eminent? Your merely practical common-sense man is very likely to make blunders, when he is not in his usual groove, from the limited range of his vision and from that difficulty in calculating indirect results and pursuing long chains of reasoning which all men must feel who have not had a certain amount of logical training. The merely practical man might suffice for a Read Board, but he will need to be something more before he can become a statesman.
Some people say—I have seen it stated recently in a Nelson Daily—that for the work of the State in a colony we do not need Statesmen, but only such men as would be suitable for Road Boards. And perhaps there may be a scintilla of truth in this. Let us examine the matter closely. Even political economists like Mill have exceptional clauses—which, by the way, have incidentally done much harm—but in which they admit that in colonial social and political development the general principles of their science may be departed from to some extent. The famous saving clause re protection, out of which so much capital was made by disingenuous politicians in a neighbouring colony some years ago, is a case in point; and Prof. Hearn in "Pluto-logy" has, in treating of the functions of government, given many departments of work to a young colony which an old State would not be called upon to attend to. The administration and settlement of waste lands, and the mode of dealing with the aboriginal inhabitants, readily occur to one as examples. The rudest governments must have the most multifarious duties. The whole department of public works must, for a time at least, in a young and remote colony like this, be more important than that which has to do with our foreign relations; and it must, either from the central or local government, receive a large amount of attention. Now, if the whole question be begged, and it be decided at once that what we have been in the habit of doing is the right thing to do, viz., to look to Government for everything, to let Government have the raising of all moneys and the spending of them all—well then, by all means let us send such men to the House page 23 of Representatives as we would send to the Road Board if we cannot get men who combine culture and learning with practical ability. But our whole contention has been that the State everywhere at present undertakes far too much in almost every department, and that a vast amount of what is squabbled over in Parliament ought to be relegated to local discussion, consideration, and execution. Such being the case, the argument for sending to a colonial legislature a different, I will not say an inferior, class of representatives, than would be desirable and usual in an older nation, falls to the ground, or at all events has less weight than might be supposed.
9.—But this is somewhat of a digression. Reference has been made to the necessary inconsistency of the State if it amplifies so largely its field of operations. For what is a Government? A reed shaken by the wind of popular sentiment—the mere expression of popular and sometimes momentary feeling. How can there be stability, consistency, or even coherency in a tiling of this kind? If its shorter existence be taken into account, the Statute Book of New Zealand will be found to stultify itself with repeals and amendments and amendments of amendments far more than the Statute Book of the Imperial Parliament. Of course you may say that this is inevitable, and that it is quite right that changes should be made in the law as often as they are seen to be desirable. But is this so! Was there no wisdom in that solemn oath by which Lycurgus is said to have bound the Spartans neither to alter nor abolish the laws which he had established until an event took place which he determined never should occur?
Every alteration in the law results in the disturbance of social forces and adjustments, and specially interferes with industrial development. Look how a new tariff disturbs trade. So great is the amount of legislation here, partly consisting of adoption and adaptation of English Statutes, partly of original Acts—so lengthy are some of the enactments, and so numerous are the changes made in the law, that it is difficult even for a lawyer to keep himself posted up in the legislation of the colony, although legal practitioners will be, for evident reasons, the last to complain of extra work put upon them in this respect. For the more laws there are, and the more carelessly they are framed, the greater will be the professional profits arising therefrom. But alteration in, and modification of, the laws of a country are certainly a great evil. They occasion general uncertainty, legal blunders, and untrustworthy counsel, and then again endless litigation, which is not the least of the troubles of humanity.
10.—And let those who dread Socialistic advances discourage as much as possible constant appeals to the State. Socialistic despotism is looming in the future big, black, and ugly. Already the advanced thinkers—the Uhlans and sharpshooters—are conceiving the idea of achieving their ends by State machinery. The International Associa-tion is most extreme in its demands for State intervention, asking for nationalisation of land, legal short hours of labor, free education, State-founded Co-operative Associations to take the place of the present industrial system, and property-taxes for all this on a graduated scale. Government, by party, will bid for popular favor by granting all these sooner or later. Just now the popular creed is, "Government of the people, by the people, for the people"; but the movement is not likely to stop there. Democracy has gained, and is gaining, its triumphs by formal legislation. Socialism, ready to trip it up, follows behind it, and will seek to gain a footing by similar means. Henry George's principles already have supporters in high places, so has property-tax on a sliding scale, and free education has been ours for some time. Especially do the colonies need to be on their guard against Socialistic advances through and by means of legislation, for in them Government plays a more important part than in older nations. The development page 24 in a young State has been so very different from what it has been in an old one. Whereas in olden times the first settlers on a spot—the germs of the future nation—were mostly barbarous or semi-barbarous hordes, hunters and fishermen, without aspiration for immediate progress and advancement, now the first settlers in a colony are civilised to begin with, and have the ideal of an improved home civilization always before them. To this they aspire, and for it they are not content long to wait. So, feeling themselves individually powerless to realise their ideal, they naturally look to united effort—that is to Government—for the required assistance. An article in a recent number of the "Quarterly Review" gives expression to the opinion that the prevailing dullness of life increases the appetite for legislative change. If this be true of the old world, the monotonous hard work, together with the absence of healthy amusement and excitement, in the colonies may have something to do with the inordinate passion for new laws. However, from whatever cause the phenomenon arises, there are proportionately larger demands for the extension of the sphere of State operations in the colonies than in the Home country, and therefore the dangers which are incidental to that extension call for closer consideration, and necessitate stronger and more careful guard. "On peut être opprimé par un seul tyran, mais on peut l'être tout autant et aussi injustement par une multitude "(Turgot). Indeed, I think the tyranny of the many is more to be dreaded than that of the individual—for it is Argus-eyed and almost omnipotent.
11.—Now the evils of excessive State intervention might be illustrated very variously in concrete cases as well as expounded generally in the abstract. But one example only shall be given, and that shall be one not by any means the most favorable to the views which I have endeavored to unfold. It is questionable whether any act in this Colony is upon the whole so popular, and I will say, notwithstanding loud protests in certain quarters to the contrary perhaps so deservedly popular—as the Education Act. Anyone who ventures to say a word against our school system, on a public platform may expect to have a warm reception. But with my eyes wide open to this fact—and without any sectarian bias—and as I have intimated without wishing to say that the Act is not in many respects a very good one, I intend to show that it is not such an unmixed good as it is mostly assumed to be, and shall thus illustrate the fact that State-intervention outside of providing for public security—does, even when at its best, incidentally much harm. Of course universally diffused education is a good thing—the growls of those who cannot secure domestic servants notwithstanding. A little learning need not disqualify for menial work, and would not do so if it were communicated along with the teaching that all honest work is honorable—and everybody, whatever his trade or occupation, should be both better and happier for possessing the power to share great thoughts with the illustrious departed, and throw himself out of his own, perhaps, ignoble surroundings into the midst of a noble field of action in the past. Neither to be really valuable universally, need the education be restricted. Rather will the learning be less dangerous the wider and more thorough it is. Then by all means let us advocate the diffusion of knowledge and—better still—of wisdom, as much as possible. But in all things we must consider the cost, not merely the cash price, though that is important, but the cost otherwise. And while practising generosity, let us not forget justice. However good and desirable popular education may be, we may, as a nation, buy it too dearly, and certainly do so if in order to achieve our endive sacrifice justice, interfere unreasonably with personal liberty, weaken the sense of self-reliance, deaden or destroy the love of learning among the people, and instead of a many-hued diversity of tastes and attainments, bring about a sombre and uninteresting mental uniformity. All this, if I mistake not, we are doing by our present system.page 25
To say nothing of the necessary cost of it, which is becoming crushing and will have sooner or later to be diminished, although the diminution entail inferior work and impaired efficiency, and to say nothing of many minor points on which the Act and the recent speech thereupon by Mr. Stout invite criticism, let us consider its three leading features. It is free, secular, and (under certain conditions) compulsory. That any education provided by the State must be secular, unless provision is made for training each child in that religious system which its parents and guardians prefer, is self-evident on principles of common justice. But it is pretty certain nevertheless that a religious body, which objects to a purely secular system of education as a godless one, has good ground for complaining that its honest convictions are disregarded and that although it may not choose to avail itself of the Education provided by the State, it must nevertheless contribute to support the system of which it does not approve. If this be not injustice and interference with the liberty of the subject, I don't see what is. Again, if the State Education be made compulsory we positively bring pressure to bear upon the subject in the training of the mind, while we leave the training of the body and of the the spiritual faculties almost or entirely to chance. Will it be contended that the mind is more important than the body 'Probably not, but this will most likely be said:—The mind is more likely than the body to be neglected. But is it? The mind of a living human being must get a certain kind of training—not perhaps within the limits of the three R's—but that is not of vital consequence. And besides, as regards even school education, what sacrifices, what strenuous efforts were made by parents in past time to give their children the rudiments. And then, to gain education, was much more difficult than it would be now, even if State-education were done away with. The long continued operation of the ordinary laws of supply and demand makes the satisfaction of every human want more Cerent and cheaper now than ever it was formerly. Perhaps State aid has demoralised people, and though I agree with Malthus "That there is a moral obligation on every man, imposed by the commands of God and Nature to support his own children" and if to support presumably to educate them,—and consequently think that parents would eventually recognise this obligation, they might not at first, on the withdrawal of the present free system, make very strenuous efforts to gain education for their offspring. And because they might not do so we further diminish personal liberty and say education shall be compulsory, although there are several peculiar and strong reasons why it should not be so. Notably there is this—that what people are forced to do, they seldom either enjoy or see the advantage of, doing. Human nature resists compulsion of every kind except by the brute forces of nature and the law of association will bring about dislike for that which is the subject-matter of compulsion.
Well then! to sugar-coat the pill, or to provide against other injustice—although the law insists on taxes being paid without helping those to pay them who have not the money—and as if compulsion did not diminish the desire for and delight in education sufficiently—we say the education shall be free: though here in New Zealand the education is, as a matter of fact, really free and not compulsory, which is worse than all. Now I do not believe it is possible to lower the value of aught, so readily in any way, as by making it cost nothing. Of that which is very cheap you naturally suspect the quality. You are apt even to value a man according to the estimation in which he holds himself. Make education absolutely free and you lower its value at once for the foolish majority, as you certainly lower its commercial value by spreading it so widely. Now mark the bad effect of this. In order that food shall be properly assimilated and nourish the body, not only page 26 must wholesome viands be provided but a healthy appetite must exist. The greatest scholars, the wisest men, have been, for the most part, those who have got their mental training by personal effort in the face of difficulty. "Slow rises merit when by poverty depressed," is only a half-truth. The energy, the eagerness, begotten by difficulty are often enough the real secrets of success. Now-a-days everything is made too easy for the scholar. Splendid text-books, well-trained masters, comfortable schools, interdiction of the rod are all very well, but they mean a weak-kneed race, general deterioration, less courage, no self-denial, none of the excitement and love for learning begotten by difficulty overcome and effort successfully made. Well then, I contend our boasted educational system which costs us nearly half a million yearly out of a total revenue of four or five millions, and to which all have to contribute—whether childless or quiver full, whether availing themselves of the benefits thereof or not—is, even in its much-vaunted leading features, not such a very satisfactory thing after all, and I contend that it should teach us to look with suspicion upon all State intervention and examine the grounds of our faith therein.
12.—There are, however, some who cannot divest their minds of the idea that the State, as a State, possesses a certain property, power, or virtue which would be lost to the community if the principles which I have been advocating were more closely adhered to. They argue that, by the imposition of a very small burden upon each individual, the State can get into its hands a mighty lever—in the shape of enormous revenue—which it can use for promoting the well-being of society, and therefore it may fairly be questioned whether the State should not exercise the power which it undoubtedly possesses in order that it may gain the advantages which it proposes. Now, an argument like this is simply a re-statement, in other words, of the entire problem which I am to-night trying to solve. Of course the many do possess the power to take upon themselves and impose upon dissentients amongst their number almost any conditions of existence that they fancy. They have, in times past, exercised this power, as we have shewn, in every variety of way, and are disposed to exercise it, as time rolls on, more and more. But it is not a small burden which is thus made to fall upon the individual: eventually it becomes a large and oppressive one, for "mony a mickle makes a muckle"; and although the State could use the power thus acquired to promote the well-being of society, I have contended and do contend that it does not do so, or, at all events, that it does not do so when it extends its functions beyond the most moderate limits. If there be anything in the argument at all, it arises from the assumption that the State—the multitude—possesses wisdom which in individuals does not exist in the community. I take exception to this assumption altogether. The wisdom of the State is a compromise between the wit of the wisest and the folly of the most foolish, and unfortunately it is a compromise in which most has to be given up by the former. Granted that, upon the whole, public opinion regulates State action—what regulates public opinion? Blatant ignorance—a time-serving press—political charlatans who appeal to human selfishness and rouse human passions for their own purposes; and so the State is steered, like a fish, by its unworthy cacdal appendage. Individual folly is seldom so insensate or so ridiculous as that of the multitude.
You may reasonably ask to what practical issue does all this faultfinding point? Are we to advocate the doctrine that the State should at once renounce the various functions that it has improperly assumed—all other than protection and administration of justice? Not by any means. As has been already said—the surest way to bring about wide-spread disaster, would be to make such a sweeping change at one fell swoop. In several departments—which I could specify, were it page 27 desirable—a withdrawal could be and should be made at once—though I think there will have to be many such utterances as mine and much more powerful ones before public opinion is converted to the requisite views. In reference to new legislation, briefly, I would suggest that every measure proposed should be examined in the light of the principles hereinbefore enunciated. Would it, if passed, interfere too much with personal liberty? Would it tax the whole community merely for a local benefit? Could the people do the thing proposed equally well for themselves? Even if not, would the Act proposed tend to the people's demoralisation? If the answers to these and such questions would be in the affirmative, let the measure be at once shelved. But I am not going to touch individual cases. I have sought to-night to keep along the highway of general principles, rather than wander after what I seek in a labyrinth of details. Even as it is the way, though the shortest one I know of, has been a long one. I would have put what I have said more shortly if I could have done so, for I remember what Southey says, "It is with words as with sunbeams, the more they are condensed the more they burn."
13.—Chiefly I ask for a recognition of the fact that Government action is gradually but surely undermining our liberties, and demoralising us. (1) The State work and influence are becoming far too great to be consistent with civil freedom. "If roads, railways, banks, insurance offices, great joint stock companies, universities and public charities," says Mill in his noble essay on Liberty, "are all of them branches of Government—if the employees of all these different enterprises are appointed and paid by Government, and look to Government for every rise in life—not all the freedom of the Press and popular constitution of the legislature would make this or any other country free otherwise than in name." True Liberalism ought to mean individual liberty just as Toryism should mean State power. But if the almighty will of the people is to give the tone and direction to liberal principles, that will mean individual slavery.
A few years ago I was walking with a member of a late New Zealand Ministry through a Maori encampment at Upokognaro, in the North Island. The semi-nude natives were in the bright sunshine and amid all the beauties of Nature, variously occupied, sleeping, cooking, eating, drinking, smoking, laughing, chattering—all however apparently happy, but in diverse ways. I made some remark about this to my companion, who replied, "Yes! I would rather be an average Maori than an average European." It is not difficult to see why he said so. Even to those of us who most appreciate the advantages of settled Society and advanced civilization, the necessary sacrifices are at times keenly felt. The legal restraints, the petty exactions, the social conventionalities, provoke us, and uncertain and heavy taxation oppresses us. As the Burgher says in Goethe's Faust, "Gehorchen soll mann mehr als tmmer, Und zahlen mehr als je vorher." One has continually to give more obedience, and to pay more taxes. Some of us would not very much object to a return to the liberty and simplicity of savage life, if along with the plain living we could have also a little high thinking—although we find even that at times a source of keenest discomfort. But we need not return to savage life in order to get rid of social and political evils. What we have individually to do is to open our eyes to them and not be afraid of speaking about them. We here in New Zealand have special occasion to be on the alert. We are apparently taking France and not England as our model re State action. Our bright Colony is in a fair way to be ruined by excessive legislation and consequent oppressive taxation. We do not expect our Government or any Government to conform to the ideal standard indicated in the four principles here in before mentioned. But those principles are altogether too largely page 28 departed from. "The aim of practical politics should be." says Mill, "to surround any given society with the greatest number of circumstances, of which the tendencies are beneficial, and to remove and "counteract, as far as practicable, those of which the tendencies are "injurious." (Logic II., p. 482). This principle is practically ignored. Our State undertakes too much for the people that they are able to do and would be the better for doing themselves. It burdens the whole community incessantly for matters of merely local interest. Instead of limiting its functions as much as possible after securing to all of us as much liberty as is consistent with the liberty of others, it seeks to gain popularity by entering first upon one duty and then upon another, until very soon, as I have said, it appears as if there would be no room for independent individual action at all. What is it all going to end in?—except it be that history is going to repeat itself and New Zealand is to have in the future a scheme of public polity corresponding to that of the Incas in Peru—with these differences, however, that we shall have many laws instead of few, and the many-headed monster Socialism as a Ruler instead of a reigning family of priests and nobles. But let us hope that it will not come to this—rather let us believe with Bastiat that the social body, like the human, has a vis medicatrix or curative force, in virtue of which it will eventually throw off its diseases and right itself. The probability is, as I have said, that the whole present system will break down of its own inherent ponderosity. If we wish for gradual development rather than violent change let us open our eyes to the course we are following and the rocks ahead. Should the majority insist upon keeping the present course, let the prudent minority do its best to moderate the speed. In time better counsels may prevail. To this end I have spoken, and to this end anyone who wishes well to the people amongst whom he lives should speak as he has the opportunity; for "The highest truth, a wise man sees, be will fearlessly utter, knowing that he is thus playing his right part in the world." (Spencer, First Principles, p. 123).
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