Who’s More Powerful, The Rich Merchant or the Poor Desk?

“Unless they are granted power by politicians, rich people have little power to force us to do anything. A GS-9, or a lowly municipal clerk, has far more life-and-death power over us. It’s they to whom we must turn to for permission to build a house, ply a trade, open a restaurant and a myriad of other activities. It’s government people, not rich people, who have the power to coerce and make our lives miserable.”

Booker Rising quoting Walter Williams. This is an interesting point, but do you think it’s true? Certainly, I agree that government bureaucracies spend a lot of time crippling the economy because of petty fights over who gets the cherry desk and who gets the pine. But is it possible that they can have more power over us than people with great wealth?

And furthermore, does this affect how we teach children or the expectations we set for them?

One last thought: the great modern enemy of the human soul is not government, it is bureaucracy. That stretches far beyond government and misleads us every step of the way.

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7 Responses

  1. Good posts. Here’s a specific instance. I used to work for a “mom and pop” restaurant that sold frozen custard, which the Wall street Journal once described as what God eats when He wants ice cream.

    We looked into franchising, though we were very fearful of what would happen to customer service and product quality if we did so. I learned that a lot of paper work and fee paying was involved even before you could consider franchising.

    I also learned that these requirements were put in place AFTER McDonald’s had filled the earth with their franchises in the 50’s and that, surprise, McDonald’s leadership had been intimately involved in the development of the requirements.

    The argument, of course, was that without these regulations people could easily be taken advantage of. Which is true, and even moreso in an impersonal world like ours.

    But the flip side is that an awful lot of potential franchises were unable to compete with McDonald’s because of the regulation.

    So which option puts us in a better place?

  2. http://www.worldnetdaily.com/?pageId=85542

    I think this article illustrates the conundrum. Bureaucrats are going to drive thousands of small businesses into bankruptcy but who is behind the initial legislation? I can’t help thinking the money is driving the bureaucracy. But does that mean that the money has the power or the bureaucracy?

  3. There was an interesting survey published about 18 months ago about the effect of the ‘rule of law’ on economic development which found that it was more a question of the stability of the law and its enforcement than the harshness of the law itself which determined a country’s appeal to business operators – because if they know exactly what the environment is they can work in or around it even if it’s discriminatory.

    Bureaucracy has enormous power to prevent new things happening, or to keep undesirable (or not actively desired) things rolling on for ever – it can also stop money being spent according to the desire of the rich. Have you noticed how many rich people feel the need to influence government, rather than merely spend their money directly?

    From what I have seen in Africa and Asia (and indirectly in Europe) – I’d say that bureaucracy stifles far more than wealth empowers (it takes a LOT of money to move bureaucracy). The question then becomes, does bureaucracy prevent many undesirable things and protect the people as it claims to?

    I think that this applies to every area of life not just economics.

  4. Buck,

    Look at it this way: When you give a person money, you have given him the power to spend it on anything he wants that is legal (or maybe not). If you buy from a fool, you empower him.

    So let’s say a lot of fools buy from, say, Hugh Hefner. Now Hugh becomes very powerful. Do you think he has impacted the way we live? Do you think he has had any influence on the movement of power?

  5. Steve,

    You get at the heart of the problem with bureaucracy, which literally means, “rule of the desk.”

    The overwhelming problem with modern education is that people who don’t know and love the students are making the decisions that set the pattern for learning.

    There primary reasons seem to be that, 1. they are the experts, and 2. if tthey don’t then resources won’t be dsitrbuted equittably. If we can have a satisfying response to those two issues, we might be able to make some progress.

  6. Could I rephrase your statement, “the great modern enemy of the human soul is not government, it is bureaucracy” as being “distance” or the impersonal? I have used the term bureaucracy for a long time without really wrestling with its meaning until I read your blog. Webster gave me: “the administration of government through departments and subdivisions managed by sets of appointed officials following an inflexible routine” which seems to coincide with W. Berry’s concern about scale. So much of modern government is centered so far away from the governed (and I speak here as you were of government in the political, economic, educational, and other senses) that despair and impotence seem the most forceful impressions one has of being governed in that way.

    For a school, your blog has several concerns to be thought about: do the “money guys” determine the program? Are the day to day decisions that determine the quality and extent of the education in the classrooms come from the students and faculty in the classrooms, or from somewhere else? Are the solutions and policies derived from near or far away from the actual locus of learning?

    Great blog that got me thinking – thanks.

  7. If the wealthy have power over the non-wealthy, how so? Or, must I subscribe to the will of the wealthy?

    Does it come down to lifestyle? Can I not live in such a way that I am not under the scepter of the wealthy?

    I try to think of my own life, and nothing immediately comes to mind as far as any oppression I feel coming from the wealthy. Sometimes walking among loads of wealth throughout Manhattan I think of what Socrates is said to have commented on the subject (though I am not sure of where I heard this, so I could be mistaken): something along the lines that contentment was to walk through the agora without wanting a thing.

    Buck

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