Whether it’s the choice to make marijuana available locally because, after all, the people voted for it; or treating the homeless as if they were helpless because, after all, without the government making available all manner of public provisions the poor will remain so, these and other examples of profligacy hardly serve as a best means by which government best serves its people.
‘Profligacy’ because there could hardly be better – or worse, depending on your perspective – examples of “wastefulness in the use of resources” than the proliferation of pot and the perpetuation of the poor.
What is, after all, government’s greatest resource?
Infrastructure, which is to say curbs, gutters, streets, sidewalks and sewers?
No, people can certainly get themselves from A to B – if they’re so inclined – without such amenities.
Are the greatest treasures by which government measures its reason for being its financial portfolios?
No, if you must be one for fear of becoming what often accompanies the other, it is “better to be poor and honest than to be dishonest and rich” per an ancient proverb.
Then what? What business are we to be about? What ends do we seek and by what means?
The current debate about panhandlers, pot-purveyors, and the perennially poor is, of course, not new.
Among our nation’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “I am for doing good to the poor but…I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. I observed…that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”
Looking even further – much further – back in history, Hesiod, Greek poet, philosopher, and economist generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750-650 BC, Homer’s era, wrote that ‘a nation’s real greatness consists not in its conquests, magnificence, military or artistic skill, but in its observance of the requirements of justice’, and religion too for that matter.
‘Impartial equity, the general practice and profession of virtue, mercy, humanity, and kindness to strangers’ – all balanced by the belief that humanity and dignity are synonymous with individual responsibility – should be the grid, Hesiod believed, through which competing desires are filtered.
And decisions made accordingly.
It is the difference between nobleness and nobility.
Especially when the latter refers to class not character.
Hesiod “viewed the world from outside the charmed circle of aristocratic rulers, protesting their injustices in a tone of voice that has been described as having a ‘grumpy quality redeemed by a gaunt dignity.’”
He was “a surly, conservative countryman, given to reflection.”
In this current culture of condensed comments mostly reflecting a vacuous, inane ‘quality’ – if that’s the word – verses informed discussion and debate, curmudgeons like Hesiod have, sadly, like “family values gone the way of winged horses and caped crusaders”.
In “one of the earliest known musings on economic thought,” Hesiod wrote in “Works and Days” that “he who is willing to work will get by. The poem regards labor as the source of all good, in that both gods and men hate the idle.”
But of such gods and men, there seems to be a rather significant dearth anymore today.