Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on July 4, 2018

in Man of System, Myths and Fallacies, Regulation

… is from pages 267-268 of Herbert Spencer’s insightful July 1853 Westminster Review essay, “Over-Legislation,” as this essay is reprinted in Liberty Fund’s 1981 collection of some of Spencer’s writings, The Man Versus the State, with Six Essays on Government, Society, and Freedom (original emphasis):

Though we have ceased to assume the infallibility of our theological beliefs and so ceased to enact them, we have not ceased to enact hosts of other beliefs of an equally doubtful kind. Though we no longer presume to coerce men for their spiritual good, we still think ourselves called upon to coerce them for their material good: not seeing that the one is as useless and as unwarrantable as the other. Innumerable failures seem, so far, powerless to teach this. Take up a daily paper and you will probably find a leader exposing the corruption, negligence, or mismanagement of some State-department. Cast your eye down the next column, and it is not unlikely that you will read proposals for an extension of State-supervision. Yesterday came a charge of gross carelessness against the Colonial Office. Today Admiralty bunglings are burlesqued. Tomorrow brings the question, “Should there not be more coal-mine inspectors?” Now there is a complaint that the Board of Health is useless; and now an outcry for more railway regulation. While your ears are still ringing with denunciations of Chancery abuses, or your cheeks still glowing with indignation at some well-exposed iniquity of the Ecclesiastical Courts, you suddenly come upon suggestions for organizing “a priesthood of science.” Here is a vehement condemnation of the police for stupidly allowing sight-seers to crush each other to death. You look for the corollary that official regulation is not to be trusted; when, instead, à propos of a shipwreck, you read an urgent demand for government-inspectors to see that ships always have their boats ready for launching. Thus, while every day chronicles a failure, there every day reappears the belief that it needs but an Act of Parliament and a staff of officers to effect any end desired. Nowhere is the perennial faith of mankind better seen.

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