BUREAUCRACY AND INDIVIDUALISM
"Perhaps, in general, it would be better if Government meddled no farther with trade than to protect it, and let it take its course. Most of the statutes, or acts, edicts, and placards of Parliaments, princes and states for regulating and directing of trade, have, we think, been either political blunders or jobs obtained by artful men for private advantage under pretense of public good."-- BENJAMIN FRANKLIN in Principles of Trade.
LET us now consider the efforts of our federal bureaucracy to investigate and regulate private business. It offers to business much unsolicited and at times unwelcome advice.
The last chapter discussed government-owned corporations, conducting business operations in competition with the taxpayers of the country, and showed that these invasions of the sphere of private business were generally, though not always, accompanied with huge losses paid by the taxpayers in addition to the losses sustained by private business in this unfair competition. This can be supplemented by some consideration of the business activities, which the administrative branches of the Government carry on at the expense of the taxpayers and in direct competition with them.
Probably the War Department conducts the greatest of such activities in its river and harbor work. Congress provided in 1883 that the Secretary of War should perform this work by contract or otherwise, as might be most economical and advantageous to the Government. The "or otherwise" meant that he could dispense with advertising for bids and letting of contracts when in his discretion he believed that it was more economical or advantageous to purchase a Government plant and do the work. Neither the Secretary of War nor his assistant secretaries generally have sufficient practical knowledge to determine whether certain dredging in a particular river or harbor or whether a certain dam or levee should be constructed by government plant or by contract. In