The National System of Political Economy
THE following instances (among others) in which the State has, with general assent of the public, interfered with the liberty of individuals in respect to their separate action, are adduced by the late Mr. Justice Byles.
The State provides defences against external aggression.
It conducts treaties with foreign nations.
It preserves internal peace and order.
It is the corner-stone of family ties, family duties, family affection, family education, by regulating and enforcing the marriage contract.
It institutes and protects property.
It regulates the transmission of property.
It enforces the repair of highways by the several districts through which they pass, or by those who use them.
It obliges each county to make and repair its own bridges.
It maintains ports and harbours.
It surveys and lights the sea coasts of the realm.
It coins money, and prohibits interference with this monopoly.
It regulates the issue of promissory notes payable to bearer.
It provides a uniform system of weights and measures, and proscribes the use of any other.
It assumes the distribution of intelligence by post.
By the patent and copyright laws it gives bounties on the exertion of the inventive faculties, in the shape of a monopoly for a limited period.
By requiring a public specification, explanatory of every patented discovery or invention, it takes care that the secret shall not be hidden from the public or die with the inventor.
It imposes a bridle on the acquisition of property by corporate bodies.
It protects the public health by the prohibition of nuisances of thousands of kinds, and by making provision for their removal.
By the quarantine laws it prevents the importation of contagious diseases.
It provides for the cleanliness of towns.
It regulates the fares of hackney carriages and controls the drivers.
It forbids inoculation for the small-pox, and artificially promotes vaccination.
It assumes the distribution of insolvents' estates.
It provides for the maintenance of the poor.
It forbids perpetuities by avoiding all attempts to tie up property beyond a life or lives in being and twenty-one years afterwards.
In the above cases Government interferes on behalf of the public. But there are others in which it does so to protect the helplessness or inexperience of individuals. Thus:
It shields infants by avoiding their contracts and protecting their persons and property;
And married women;
And persons of unsound mind;
And in many ways the helpless labouring poor.
It forbids the truck system.
It regulates the employment of women and children in mines and factories.
It controls pawnbrokers—grinding the tooth of usury, and securing facilities for redemption.
It prohibits and punishes, as we have seen, the use of unjust weights and measures;
And the sale of unwholesome provisions;
And the adulteration of coffee, tobacco, snuff, beer, tea, cocoa, chocolate, and pepper.
To guard against fraud, it directs the form and manner in which wills shall be executed.
If a man gives a money bond with a penalty if the money is not repaid at a day prefixed, the State forbids the penalty to be enforced.
A purchaser of gold or silver articles cannot tell whether they are real gold and silver or not, or how much of the weight is precious metal, and how much is alloy. The State steps in to his assistance, and requires the assay mark of a public officer.
A man buys a pocket of hops. He cannot always open it to see whether it is of the growth alleged or of uniform quality. The State interferes and makes it penal to mark or pack falsely.
An attorney sends in his bill. The client cannot tell whether the charges are usual and fair. The State intervenes and provides a public officer who is empowered, not only to correct, but also to punish overcharges.
The State compels the professional education of medical men and attorneys.
The above are but some instances of the mode in which nearly all governments have found it for the advantage of the community to interpose.
What is the interposition of Government?
Simply the concentrated action of the wisdom and power of the whole society on a given point; a mutual agreement by all, that certain things shall be done or not done for the general benefit.—'Sophisms of Free Trade examined,' by a Barrister (the late Mr. Justice Byles), 1870.
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