Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 27.djvu/426

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THERE is no more important subject for consideration in the present day than that which is involved in the question whether the powers of government ought to be extended or restricted. The tendency, as every one must be aware, is toward extension, not restriction, and one of our contemporaries, the "Christian Union," snubs a correspondent who suggests restriction by telling him that he is "about half a century behind the times." The earliest form of government, it proceeds to say, is military despotism, the next is one of police regulation; while the happy dispensation under which we now live is one of industrial cooperation. Government is "organized to do for the community, by community action, whatever it can do better in that way than in any other." This is a little enigmatical, suggesting as it does that "government" might proceed in a great many other ways than by community action; but we may perhaps assume the meaning to be that government is organized to do for the community whatever can be better done through its agency than by any form of private effort or enterprise.

The first objection we make to this position is, that a great deal of ambiguity attaches to the word "better" as here employed. The resources of the Government are practically boundless; and that the Government, with boundless means, should do a particular work "better" than it would be done by private individuals with limited means, is not quite decisive of the question whether the Government should undertake the work or not. Anything can be done well if money without stint is applied to it; but the question remains, Are government methods of doing work really beneficial to the people? If the Government undertook to manage all the private gardens in the country, on the understanding that it might levy whatever taxes were necessary for the purpose, no doubt there might be a considerable improvement, on the average, in the way in which lawns and flower-beds and vegetable patches would be kept. It would take time to organize the necessary army of gardeners and laborers; but the thing could probably be accomplished in the end. There would be fat places for the politicians and clerkships without number, in addition to the actual outside workers; but the vast machine would sooner or later be brought into motion; and then no doubt some people, carried away by their admiration for the greater uniformity of government work, would proclaim that the principle of state management had scored another triumph. But meanwhile where would the money come from? Would the whole question of expediency be decided by pointing to the fact, if it were a fact, that, on the average, gardens were kept in better shape by the Government gardeners than they had been by the private owners? Would not the question of economy call loudly for consideration? And would it not be a further question whether Government was not doing more harm by diminishing the power of individual initiative than it was doing good by keeping hedges, and borders, and walks in superior trim?

When, therefore, we hear of Government doing this or that thing "better" than private enterprise would do it, we should like to go below the surface of things and examine a little into underlying questions, economical and moral. Every one seems to admit that a be-