An Objective Look At Issues Without Idol-Worship

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Overlegislation" by Herbert Spencer

An interesting excerpt from Overlegislation by Herbert Spencer:

Officialism is habitually slow. When nongovernmental agencies are dilatory, the public has its remedy: it ceases to employ them and soon finds quicker ones. Under this discipline all private bodies are taught promptness. But for delays in state departments there is no such easy cure.


Again, officialism is stupid. Under the natural course of things each citizen tends toward his fittest function. Those who are competent to the kind of work they undertake succeed and, in the average of cases, are advanced in proportion to their efficiency; while the incompetent, society soon finds out, ceases to employ, forces to try something easier, and eventually turns to use.


How invariably officialism becomes corrupt everyone knows. Exposed to no such antiseptic as free competition — not dependent for existence, as private unendowed organizations are, on the maintenance of a vigorous vitality; all law-made agencies fall into an inert, overfed state, from which to disease is a short step. Salaries flow in irrespective of the activity with which duty is performed; continue after duty wholly ceases; become rich prizes for the idle wellborn; and prompt to perjury, to bribery, to simony.


It is the inevitable result of destroying the direct connection between the profit obtained and the work performed. No incompetent person hopes, by offering a douceur in the Times, to get a permanent place in a mercantile office. But where, as under government, there is no employer's self-interest to forbid — where the appointment is made by someone on whom inefficiency entails no loss — there a douceur is operative. In hospitals, in public charities, in endowed schools, in all social agencies in which duty done and income gained do not go hand in hand, the like corruption is found — and is great in proportion as the dependence of income upon duty is remote. In state organizations, therefore, corruption is unavoidable. In trading organizations it rarely makes its appearance, and when it does, the instinct of self-preservation soon provides a remedy.


Between these law-made agencies and the spontaneously formed ones, who then can hesitate? The one class are slow, stupid, extravagant, unadaptive, corrupt, and obstructive: can any point out in the other, vices that balance these?

It is true that trade has its dishonesties, speculation its follies. These are evils inevitably entailed by the existing imperfections of humanity. It is equally true, however, that these imperfections of humanity are shared by state functionaries; and that being unchecked in them by the same stern discipline, they grow to far worse results. Given a race of men having a certain proclivity to misconduct, and the question is whether a society of these men shall be so organized that ill conduct directly brings punishment, or whether it shall be so organized that punishment is but remotely contingent on ill conduct? Which will be the most healthful community — that in which agents who perform their functions badly immediately suffer by the withdrawal of public patronage, or that in which such agents can be made to suffer only through an apparatus of meetings, petitions, polling-booths, parliamentary divisions, cabinet-councils, and red-tape documents?

Herbert Spencer understood the workings of government long before the advent of "public choice" economics.

No comments:

Post a Comment