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The People’s Pottage


In 1932 a bund of intellectual revolutionaries, hiding behind the conservative planks of the Democratic party, seized control of government.

After that it was the voice of government saying to the people there had been too much freedom. That was their trouble. Freedom was for the strong. The few had used it to exploit the many. Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost, boom and bust, depression and unemployment, economic insecurity, want in the midst of plenty, property rights above human rights, taking it always out of the hide of labor in bad times — all of that was what came of rugged individualism, of free prices, free markets, free enterprise and freedom of contract. Let that be the price of freedom, and who would not say it was too dear?

So, instead of this willful private freedom, trust the government to administer freedom, for all the people alike, especially the weak. To begin with, the government would redistribute the national wealth in an equitable manner. Then its planners would plan production and distribution in perfect balance, and thus no more boom and bust; the government then would see to it that everybody had always enough money to buy a decent living and beyond that it would provide for the widows and orphans, the sick and disabled, the indigent and the old.

To perform these miracles, it would require more freedom for itself — that is, freedom to intervene in the lives of people for their own good, freedom from old Constitutional restraints that belonged to our horse-and-buggy days, and freedom to do as it would with the public purse. And if it should be said that this increase in the government’s own sphere of freedom meant a curtailment of the individual’s freedom, it came to this — that the individual was asked to surrender only the freedom to starve and what he received in return was freedom from want. Was that not a good bargain?

What the people did in fact surrender was control of government.

They did not intend to do that. For a long time they did not realize they had done it, and when it came to them they were already deeply infected with a virus that devours the copy book virtues, creates habits of dependence and destroys the valiant love of self-responsibility.

The crisis was moral.

Happily for their designs, the New Deal physicians found the patient in a state of economic pain, extreme but not fatal, and proceeded to administer imported narcotics, all habit forming, such as:

(1) Repudiation of the United States Treasury’s promises to pay.

(2) Confiscation of the people’s gold by trickery.

(3) Debasement of the currency.

(4) Deliberate inflation.

(5) Spoilation of the savers, whose little rainy day hoards melted away.

(6) Deficit spending to create buying power by conjury.

(7) Monetization of debt.

(8) The doctrine of a planned economy.

(9) A scheme of taxation, class subsidies and Federal grants-in-aid designed ostensibly to redistribute the national wealth for social justice, but calculated in fact to reduce millions of citizens to subservience, to bring forty-eight sovereign states to the status of provinces and to create in the executive principle a supreme government with extensive new powers, including the power to make its own laws by simply publishing from its bureaus rules and regulations having the force of law, disobedience punishable by fine or imprisonment.

These physicians kept saying to the patient, “Now aren’t you feeling better?” Many, very many, were feeling immediately better, and because the government offered to provide them with economic security forever, they were easily persuaded to exchange freedom for benefits, until at last they had surrendered, almost unawares, the most elementary freedom of all, namely, the right to receive in your pay envelope the full reward for your labor and do with it what you will.

Thus the Welfare State was built. The facade was magnificent; the cornerstone rested on quicksand; the moral cost of it may be reckoned in terms such as these:

If the great Government of the United States were a private corporation no bank would take its name on a piece of paper, because it has cynically repudiated the words engraved upon its bonds.

The dollar, which was long the most honored piece of money in the world, became an irredeemable scrap of paper, with no certain value.

The executive power of government was exalted to be the paramount power, uncontrollable, and the exquisite Constitutional mechanism of three co-equal powers — the Congress to make laws, the President to execute the laws and the Supreme Court to interpret the laws — no longer functioned.

The symbol of Executive Government is the President. Actually, Executive Government became a vast system of bureaus and commissions writing 90 per cent of our laws, touching our everyday lives to the quick.

The purse and the sword were in one hand, which is solemnly forbidden by the constitution. In fact this was so. True, Congress still appropriated the money, but it could no longer pretend to understand the budgets that came from the White House and bitterly complained that it could no appropriate money intelligently. And as for the sword, the State Department, speaking for Executive Government, held that to be an obsolete provision of the Constitution which says only the Congress shall have the power to declare war. The President alone could make war, as he did in Korea.

In these twenty years a revolution took place in the relationship between government and people. Formerly government was the responsibility of people; now people were the responsibility of government.

This is an excerpt from Garrett’s book The People’s Pottage, published in 1953 by Caxton Printers, Ltd., 312 Main St., Caldwell, Idaho 83605. Reprinted by permission.

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    Garet Garrett (1878-1954) was a financial writer for the New York Times and later the executive editor of the New York Tribune.