Friday, January 25, 2013

The evils of government dependence

As I mentioned the other day, I'm working my way through The Scarlet Letter as part of a read along. My public high school education was sadly lacking; there are a number of classic novels that I've never read.

At the beginning of the book is an essay Hawthorne wrote on the Custom House - the place in a seaport where the paperwork needed for import and export was processed long before our current flurry of bit-and-bytes technology rendered them obsolete. Hawthorne worked for a time as a weighter and gauger at the Boston Custom House; it's from those experiences that the essay stems.

Truly, it made me laugh, as it proves that people are much the same through the ages. Hawthorne has this to say about the effects of having a government job:

"An effect - which I believe to be observable, more or less, in every individual who has occupied the position - is, that while he leans on the mighty arm of the Republic, his own proper strength departs from him. He loses, in an extent proportioned to the weakness or force of his original nature, the capability of self-support...

... Why should he toil and moil, and be at so much trouble to pick himself up out of the mud, when, in a little while hence, the strong arm of his Uncle will raise and support him? Why should he work for his living here, or go to dig gold in California, when he is so soon to be made happy, at monthly intervals, with a little pile of glittering coin out of his Uncle's pocket? It is sadly curious to observe how slight a taste of office suffices to infect a poor fellow with this singular disease. Uncle Sam's gold - meaning no disrespect to the worthy old gentleman - has, in this respect, a quality of enchantment like that of the devil's wages. Whoever touches it should look well to himself, or he may find the bargain to go hard against him, involving, if not his soul, yet many of its better attributes; its sturdy force, its courage and constancy, its truth, its self-reliance,and all that give the emphasis to manly character."

Things really haven't changed - being on the government dole is still harmful to your very soul. It's just that the temptation to take that pile of glittering coin is much greater today, and we've much less of the character qualities needed to resist grabbing it.

No comments: