Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/867

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847
EDITOR'S TABLE.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

ENCROACHMENTS OF THE STATE.

THE article by Dr. Shaw, in a recent number of the "Contemporary Review," on "The American State and the American Man," has started inquiry as to the extent to which individual liberty is being encroached upon in this country by the extension of State functions. The result has been to show that, in most of the States of the Union, a rapid process is taking place of transference to the government of functions and responsibilities heretofore devolving on the private citizen. It would almost seem as if people had found a new toy—the power of legislative action—and were playing with it with a kind of greedy zest. According to the accounts furnished, there is a perfect rain, not to say deluge, of statutory regulations on every conceivable subject proceeding from our State Legislatures. Acts of incorporation are granted to every body of persons who come forward and claim that it would be a public benefit if they were granted the powers and privileges of a corporation, and intrusted with the control of some particular art or profession. The general result of this legislative activity is that free competition is suppressed, and individuals are released to a large extent from all responsibility of choice as to how or through whom they shall get this thing or that thing done. The State legalizes certain schools of medicine and refuses to legalize others. It makes the taking out of its certificates obligatory on all who would engage in the profession of teaching. It provides for the inspection and stamping of various articles of merchandise. It seeks, as far as possible, apparently, to reduce the life of each individual citizen to a kind of safe mechanical routine. So soon, indeed, as a burden of responsibility begins to be felt in any quarter, some busy law-maker, moved by some interested party, offers to lighten the load by a special act of legislation. What should not be lost sight of is, that there is always somebody who stands ready to make money out of each new law inscribed on the statute-book. Back of the whole body of oleomargarine legislation stands the farmer who does not want his butter-trade subjected to a trying competition. And so with all special laws of a protective kind. We hear of a demand made in one quarter for the incorporation of the music-teaching profession, so that henceforth no one may venture to inculcate the elements of music save in accordance with the views and theories of the incorporators. Of course, these public-spirited ladies and gentlemen, who are so anxious to protect the community from the injury which might be inflicted by ill-prepared music-teachers, have their own interests to serve in the business. Competition will be restricted, and all who want to teach will have to pass through the probation which it may please the incorporators to prescribe. People who want to earn an honest living by imparting the little they know will find their pathway blocked by a special law passed in the interest of the magnates of the profession.

Dr. Shaw, in the article above referred to, says that there is no use in trying to draw a distinction between functions that the State may properly undertake and those which it should abstain from assuming. The sooner, he holds, we come down to the position that every thing is a lawful subject of State interference, and that the question is never