06 November, 2010

Why not with their bare hands?

George Will, speaking at the Milton Friedman Prize dinner relates this story about Milton Friedman.

Milton Friedman, whose name we honor tonight, was honored often for his recondite and subtle scholarship. But it was complemented by a sturdy common sense much in fashion nowhere now. About forty years ago he found himself in an Asian country where the government was extremely eager to show off a public works project which was inordinately and excessively fond – it was digging a canal. They took Milton out to see this, and he was astonished because there were hordes of workers, but no heavy earth moving equipment. And he remarked upon this to his government guide, and the man said "Mr. Friedman, you don't understand this is a jobs program. That's why we only have men with shovels.” To which Friedman said, "Well, if it's a jobs program why don't they have spoons instead of shovels?"

And why not with their bare hands? They could have put far more men to work with only their hands to carry the soil. Government does not, never has, and will not be a job creation machine. A shovel, why that takes away at least two jobs for someone else, maybe three if you hire someone to carry the soil away. Ah, but government does what it does to serve it's own self interest and that brings me to this quote by Thomas Sowell.

(Y)ou can't depend on the government because the government is not some brooding presence in the sky. The government is an organization with its own interest which it will serve over and above whatever interest it is supposedly being set up to serve. -- Thomas Sowell, interviewed at Right Wing News

h/t to Kevin for both of these.