Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hammer Time

I will say right up front that I like hammers.  I have a blacksmith's hammer that is just a wonderful piece of equipment.  I am most fond, for some reason, of ballpeen hammers.  I have my father's old clawhammer with which he built our house and several barns.  Hammers are good.  You can hammer things in and hammer things out.  You can hammer things together, or you can hammer something apart.  You can shatter rocks with a sledgehammer, or you can carve a statue from marble with a chisel and a mallet.  I would not be without a hammer.

However, there are some things a hammer doesn't do well, some it can't do at all, and some where it does more harm than good.  Hammers aren't a good choice for painting walls, washing windows, or flipping a steak on the grill.  If you plan on putting your watch back together, it's probably not wise to take it apart with a nine-pound drilling hammer.  Want to take change the battery in your smart phone?  Probably best to leave the ballpeen alone.  So, too, if you want to clean your fine china or your sparkling crystal stemware, the hammer is the wrong tool.

Now it's stupid to even think of using a hammer for those jobs, isn't it?  Yet, the collectivists and statists around the world think nothing of trying to apply the single tool which government has -- force -- to every real or imagined societal ill and every human crisis.  Anytime there is some perceived unfairness, some disagreement between individuals, some person who is alleged to be in "need", the collectivists are clamoring for a government solution.  And not just any government solution.  They want a central government solution.

I love my sledgehammer, but I'd rather not use it to drive finishing nails in my trim.  In this country we have fifty hammers of various sizes, shapes and weights in our fifty state governments.  We have a myriad of municipal and county hammers that can be wielded more rapidly and readily and with considerably less damage than the fed sledge. We do not need a centralized solution, a new federal statute, five thousand new government employees and a vast new bureaucracy to resurface a street, recruit a new teacher, or feed homeless people downtown. 

No government edict is going to make the foolish wise.  No executive order will make the dishonest truthful.  No program will make the wasteful, slothful, and wicked thrifty, responsible, and virtuous. 

Government with its Keynesian underpinnings still believes that fixing broken windows is a productive activity, even though Bastiat exposed that fallacy in the 1840s.  Even if some windows are broken and need fixing -- because broken windows do happen -- a hammer is not the best tool for that job, either.  But when a man has a hammer, he sort of has the urge to use it, and hammers are indeed very good for smashing windows. 

The government hammer has smashed the free market in the name of fairness.  It has smashed the family and marriage in the name of compassion and justice.  It has smashed private property in the name of sobriety, and privacy in the name of security.  In the name of equality, the government hammer's solution is to make sure no window remains unbroken. 

As I said, I am not against hammers.  I am not against government.  I recognize the need for both.  They have their place and their appropriate function.  Fixing that which is delicate, fragile, and complex is not the hammer's job.


  1. Well nailed together - perhaps one of your best articles since I have been following your blog posts. :-)