In failing to give due consideration to the proper role of government, both our nation and our state are sliding down the proverbial slope towards what? Less prosperity, lower productivity, higher unemployment, losses of freedom, insurmountable public burdens of debt just to name a few of the maladies associated with impoverished society and to which we are precipitously headed. A prime example of this failure was highlighted in this past Sunday’s New York Times, “Lines Blur as Texas Gives Industries a Bonanza” which was originally captioned, “Texas Business Incentives Highest in Nation.” That should make you sick, $19 billion dollars sick.
But does it make you sick enough to do anything about it? Sick enough to ask whether we know the difference between policies that keep us free (and prosperous) and those that lead to poverty?
Ludvig von Mises, noted economist and philosopher, provides some particularly salient ideas for our consideration:
- Equality means no more and no less than equal treatment under the law – Poor understanding of this concept leads to the futile attempts to make sure everyone enjoys the same (equal) outcome. “Nothing however is as ill-founded as the assertion of the alleged equality of all members of the human race. Even between brothers there exist the most marked differences in physical and mental attributes.” Equality under the law means equal treatment under the law (and by the government). “Whoever denies rights to a part of the population must always be prepared for a united attack by the disenfranchised on the privileged. Class privileges must disappear so that the conflict over them may cease.”1
To boast that Texas is a business friendly state when we tolerate the distribution of tax dollars, dollars forcefully taken from our citizens, to select businesses who just happen to have the right political connections is the worst sort of deceptive trade and false advertising. In fact, what has been created here in Texas is a very unfriendly business climate, one that screams, we’ll only treat you favorably if you’re making large political contributions to various politicians, “it’s pay to play, baby”.
- Government power is to be limited to protecting people and their property from aggression. When government strays beyond that purpose, it ends by regulating and restricting down to the smallest detail. So what you say? Those regulated things need regulatin’. vonMises rightly notes “All mankind’s progress has been achieved as a result of the initiative of a small minority that began to deviate from the ideas and customs of the majority until their example finally moved the others to accept the innovation themselves. To give the majority the right to dictate to the minority what it is to think, to read, and to do is to put a stop to progress once and for all.2
Perhaps more to the point, the fifth-century B.C. Chinese philosopher Mo-tzu once remarked that if someone can recognize an act of unjust aggression when it is perpetrated by one individual against another, but not when the same act is perpetrated by an organized group of individuals, such a person must be confused about right and wrong.3
Government has no business in economic development as it is being practiced today. Government’s job is to protect people and property from aggression, to protect the innocent and punish the wrong doer. Provide that level playing field for one and all and Texas truly will be a business friendly state. Unfortunately, despite the oft seen Norman Rockwellian imagery extolling the virtue of small business, today the message from Texas screams, “pay to play, only the wealthy need apply”.
There is no state in the union that enjoys the diversity that Texas offers: in our people, in our heritage, in our natural resources and in our industry. There is every reason that Texans should be the most prosperous in the country and yet as this article points out, Texas “has the third highest proportion of hourly jobs paying at or below minimum wage.” And study after study shows Texas slipping on indexes measuring freedom and the prosperity that accompanies it, the most recent coming from the Cato Institute giving our governor (and thereby our state policy) a C for fiscal conservatism.4
Ezra Taft Benson, Former Sec. of Agriculture during the Eisenhower administration addressed the proper role of government, “Are there not, in reality, underlying, universal principles with reference to which all issues must be resolved whether the society be simple or complex in its mechanical organization? It seems to me we could relieve ourselves of most of the bewilderment which so unsettles and distracts us by subjecting each situation to the simple test of right and wrong. Right and wrong as moral principles do not change. They are applicable and reliable determinants whether the situations with which we deal are simple or complicated. There is always a right and wrong to every question which requires our solution.” (Albert E. Bowen, Prophets, Principles and National Survival, P. 21-22) Unlike the political opportunist, the true statesman values principle above popularity, and works to create popularity for those political principles which are wise and just. Read the rest of Mr. Benson’s remarks here.
No question, Texas needs political leaders who will value principle above popularity and who will work to create popularity for those political principles which are wise and just, lest we tumble down our own fiscal cliff.
1 von Mises, Ludwig Liberalism in the Classical Tradition German edition, 1927; latest English edition Copyright 1985 The Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington, NY. Translation by Ralph Raico. Online edition Copyright The Mises Institute, 2000.
3Burton Watson, ed. & trans., Mo Tzu: Basic Writings (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963), pp. 50-51.
4 Edwards, Chris. ”Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors: 2012” Cato Institute, Oct. 9, 2012.