I was saddened to read the “almost amused” attack on Rich Elfers and his recent column on business and government. It was typical of the extreme conservative view that wealth is the end all and be all of this country or our existence. It was saddening to see a defense of child labor and 14- to 16-hour work days. It was saddening to read, “Governments do not create anything, they simply redistribute the wealth of the producers.”
Governments are not ordained and established to create wealth. Wealth is created when governments provide the conditions of civilization that ensure the people are protected in their “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The United States Constitution begins with a preamble which states that the government was created “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Not a single mention in there of wealth.
Wealth comes from a free people who are not forced to choose between poverty and 14- to 16-hour work days or putting their children in factories. Wealth comes from education that is universal and free; it comes from a peaceful society where citizens don’t live in fear of violence; it comes from the security that other nations will not have the ability to conquer or enslave those citizens. True wealth comes with the myriad types of infrastructure that enhance the pursuit of happiness, roads, airports, food inspection, electric power, disaster relief, medical research and the list goes on. And all of those things allow businesses to prosper as well.
Depending on your definition of freedom, government is the epitome of the old saying that “freedom is not free.” Nor is the “general welfare” which is a condition of that freedom. No, government does not create wealth; it just creates the conditions for wealth and all the other things we value to exist. We denigrate government at our hazard.